A Different (Yet Similar) Opportunity

After five years, hundreds of practices, thousands of hours of blood, sweat, and tears, it all comes down to this for senior defensive lineman Keilen Dykes.

One final game, one final chance to make yet another mark on the storied history of Mountaineer football. Dykes and his class will leave Morgantown in January with more wins than any other group of seniors to ever run out of the tunnel wearing the Blue and Gold. In five seasons, Dykes has now won at least a share of the Big East four times. Three times in those five years, his team entered the season ranked in the top ten of both major polls.

This season, Dykes and the seniors were hoping to save their best for last. Entering the regular season finale against Pitt, the Mountaineers merely needed a win over the four-win Panthers to sew up a national title berth. Of course as we now know, that didn't quite work out. That aside, there is still plenty to play for.

A win over Oklahoma would arguably be the biggest triumph of the Rich Rodriguez era. The Sooners, thought by many to have a legitimate case themselves for a spot in the title game, enter the January 2 Fiesta Bowl ranked No. 4 in the final BCS poll by virtue of their Big XII championship game win over then-top ranked Missouri. Ironically, some might argue that the Mountaineer face a stiffer test in the Fiesta Bowl than they might have had they gone on to the big game.

"I'm not going to jump into that, but it's going to be a good game," Dykes chuckled when asked if he thought the Sooners were a more worthy opponent than either of the two championship game participants (Ohio State and LSU). "I can't wait to get there."

Before they can get there (e.g. University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale), the Mountaineers must put behind them the heartbreak and "coulda, woulda, shoulda" scenarios that haunted all things gold and blue in the days following the shocking loss to their rival.

"That night just wasn't a great night to be a Mountaineer," Dykes recalled. "You just keep looking up, thinking that something's going to happen, thinking that somebody was going to make a play. At the same time, maybe we should have been looking at ourselves asking we didn't make a play. After that, we just have to move on from it."

Moving on will no doubt be much easier to do beginning on Friday evening, when the team will begin practicing on a more consistent schedule in preparation for the Sooners. In the nearly two weeks that have passed since the final regular season game, the Mountaineers have mainly been relegated to weightlifting and meetings. Practices were held last Friday and Sunday before another hiatus from on-field activity took up much of the week in correspondence with the University's fall semester final exams.

While players have been studying for finals in psychology, history, English, and other subjects, coaches have been intently going over the lesson plans for the ultimate test of skill and will against Bob Stoops and the Sooners.

Oklahoma will be enough of a challenge on its own, and letting a month-long hangover resulting from a loss to Pitt would certainly only compound the challenge already facing West Virginia. With that in mind, Dykes feels that his teammates must look at the game as another opportunity to make a statement, and not a consolation game as some are calling it.

"If we had won, we would still be playing one of the best teams in the country," he said. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime to go play the Oklahoma Sooners and have a chance to beat them. It's a great opportunity for the whole state of West Virginia.

"That's alright with me, man," he continued. "When I signed a Division I scholarship, I wasn't coming here to play high school teams. I came here to play the top teams, and Oklahoma is no doubt one of the top teams."

Many are giving Dykes and his teammates nothing more than a snowball's chance in Phoenix to beat the mighty Sooners. Luckily for the Mountaineers, such a situation is not unprecedented. One needn't go back any longer than the last BCS bowl game West Virginia played in. Heading into the January 2, 2006 Sugar Bowl against SEC flag-bearer Georgia, the Mountaineers were a significant underdog. That game, of course, turned out to be the biggest win of Rodriguez's seven-year career.

Now, two seasons later, a similar script presents itself. For Dykes, a senior captain, nothing would top off his magnificent career better than a win over OU.

"It's going to be a big game," he said. "I know a lot of people aren't going to expect us to win. We've just got to go out there and see what happens."

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