Two Times The Pain

Senior safety Ryan Mundy has been a leader for West Virginia all season. For the next month, Mundy will have to fill that role more than ever before as the Mountaineers prepare

Imagine how much pain West Virginia's coaches and players have had in the hours and days following Saturday night's stunning 13-9 loss to Pitt, ending the Mountaineers' national championship aspirations for at least one more season.

Now, imagine the pain of senior safety Ryan Mundy. For the second year in a row, Mundy's team rode into the final week of the season flying high, needing only a win over a bitter rival to secure a spot in college football's final game.

One year ago, with Mundy starting in the secondary at the University of Michigan, the Wolverines entered game No. 12 on the docket ranked second in the country, with top-ranked Ohio State hosting a de-facto national semi-final. The Wolverines lost that game, as Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and company rang the victory bell in Columbus one final time before heading to the desert and falling to the Florida Gators.

And now, this. Same scenario, same result.

"It's crazy," he said. "It's pretty much the exact same."

Of course how Mundy and his current teammates respond remains to be seen. The Mountaineers will head west to take on Big XII Champion Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 2 with a chance to salvage an 11-win season, and score another marquee victory in a prestigious bowl game.

Last winter, Mundy's Wolverines had a similar consolation, heading to Pasadena for a tilt with USC in the Rose Bowl instead of playing for it all. That team, he said, spent much of the time between the Ohio State loss and USC game sulking, wondering what could have been. This team, he hopes, will do nothing of the sorts in preparing to face Bob Stoops and the Sooners.

"It's hard to say don't take (the Pitt loss) too hard, you know? But we've got to move on, and we've got to focus on this opponent," he explained. "Last year's lost was so devastating that I'm not sure (the Wolverines) ever bounced back from that when we went to play USC in the Rose Bowl. If I had any advice for the team, it's that we have to focus on Oklahoma right now.

"Going into the ball game, you've got to give it everything you have," he continued. "You can't hold anything back."

Especially in the case of Mundy and his 16 fellow seniors. Pitt already defeated West Virginia once on Saturday. Letting the same loss effect the outcome of another game would spoil what has been an otherwise-remarkable season for the Mountaineers, now winners of the Big East in four of the past five seasons.

Mundy, for one, hopes the recent parallels of his two careers in blue and gold (or maize, if you will) have ended with Saturday's loss. Having been a part of the Michigan program for three Rose Bowl losses and an Alamo Bowl defeat, he would like to end his college career with at least one bowl championship ring to boot.

"It's even funny, because at this time last year I didn't even know what I'd be doing with my life right now," he said of his ultimate decision to take advantage of a short-lived NCAA rule which allows graduate students an additional year of eligibility at a school which offers a master's degree in a program not offered at the original institution.

Ironically, he's wondering what could have been, just as he did last year. Only this time, he doesn't plan on letting those thoughts stick around for as long as they did previously.

"I'm anxious to get back out there and see what we're going to do about it."

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