Not So Fast, Old Friends (Or Foes)

After West Virginia's loss to Pitt, many assumed the Mountaineers would be playing old foe Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

It seemed logical, right? West Virginia, champions of the Big East would face old rival and ACC victor Virginia Tech. It would be a rivalry renewed in Miami with an added bonus of the Black Diamond Trophy to boot. Even Mountaineer players and coaches, still scowling less than 24 hours after a loss to Pitt, had a hunch that New Year's in South Beach was all but a cinch.

"After the game was over, I was still replaying the game a lot, but I thought that maybe (the bowl destination) was going to be the Orange Bowl," head coach Rich Rodriguez admitted on Monday.

"I was thinking the Orange Bowl maybe," added senior linebacker Marc Magro, a veteran of four previous January bowl trips. "That's what I was thinking, the Orange Bowl."

Then again, little -- if anything -- has gone according to plan this college football season. One had to think that Big XII runner-up Missouri was still in the hunt for a BCS at-large spot by virtue of its 11-2 season. Instead, the Kansas Jayhawks heard their name called during Sunday night's BCS Selection Show, with the rival Tigers (an eight-point winner over the 'Hawks just one week earlier) now on the outside looking in.

And here Mountaineer fans thought they had a rough weekend. At least their team was still BCS-bound. The Tigers, like West Virginia, were one game away from a shot at the national title. In less than 24 hours, Gary Pinkel's club went from the penthouse to...the Cotton Bowl? Ouch.

Even Rodriguez, still understandably melancholy less than 48 hours removed from the crushing loss to Pitt, felt Missouri's misery.

"That one's hard to explain," he muttered.

Once the Jayhawks had crashed the BCS party, West Virginia's Orange Bowl plans were all but soured. Though Kansas and Oklahoma did not play in the regular season, the powers that be weren't about to schedule an all-Big XII Fiesta Bowl. Had they gone that route, would anybody outside of Tornado Alley tuned in to watch?

Not on Auntie Em's grave. And if one interregional match-up was too many, a second involving WVU and VT was certainly out of the question.

Rodriguez was officially informed of West Virginia's Fiesta Bowl bid by Director of Athletics Ed Pastilong on Sunday afternoon.

"I can understand where TV has a lot of impact in picking the bowl games," Rodriguez understated.

Nevertheless, the Mountaineers are happy to be heading west to take on the Sooners. The match-up will certainly be something different for fans of both schools, who have not met on the football field in 25 years.

"I was a little bit surprised when I found out we were going to Arizona," summed up Magro. "I'm very grateful, though."

"Being in any bowl game is special, no matter who you are playing," offered junior running back Steve Slaton.

As difficult as the BCS is to understand for all observers, the fact remains that things worked out pretty well for the Mountaineers, all things considered.

"It feels great to know that you still have a chance to play a great opponent, and you still have a chance to prove that you are a great team," said senior safety Eric Wicks.

"If people are disappointed that we are not going to a National Championship, that is understandable, but if people are down in the dumps, because we are going to the Fiesta Bowl, to me that's not understandable," said Rodriguez.

So while it may not be the re-visited rivalry that many expected, the fact remains that West Virginia will still be playing in one of the five biggest games left on the college football schedule. And after the pain experienced by all in blue and gold on Saturday, a game of this magnitude is certainly something to look forward to at day's end.

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