Neither Adam Bednarik nor Mike Bilokonsky are academically eligible to play against No. 4 Okalhoma (10-2) in the 37th annual bowl game. Bednarik, a fifth-year senior, is a 6-2, 25-pound quarterback who started in WVU's 15-98 season-opening win at Syracuse in 2005. He gave way to current starter Patrick White during the fourth quarter of the triple-overtime win versus Louisville later that year. Bednarik has not seen major time since. He finishes his career with 22 games played with one rushing touchdown and four TDs throwing. Bednarik completed 56 of 76 passes for 534 yards. He also caught one pass in his collegiate career. Biliokonsky, a 6-5, 260-pound reserve defensive lineman from Strongsville, Ohio, has tallied three total tackles and a forced fumble as a Mountaineer. He has one sack for a seven-yard loss.
"He is a fifth-year man and we hate that for Adam," interim West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said. "He did not make the eligibility requirements to come to the bowl. As did Mike Bilokonsky. We have two members of our team that didn't make it and we are very sad."
The rest of the team remains eligible and had a solid initial practice, according to Stewart. West Virginia has practiced 10 times tus far and will hold sessions on the 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st before a walk-through on Jan. 1. The Fiesta Bowl kicks off at 8 p.m. EST (6 p.m. local/Arizona time) on Jan. 2. WVU hit Thursday to stay physical for the bowl game.
"(We hit) a little bit to knock the rust off," Stewart said. "It's been a couple of days since we last performed. Tomorrow, we'll go full pads. After that, we'll go in helmets and vests just polishing up our special teams. We're going to do some one-on-one work and some inside work today. We'll finish for about a half an hour against our scout team. We had a great trip. Hospitality has been very good. The players have been treated extremely well. I want to thank everybody with the Fiesta Bowl. This has been just first class thus far.
"As I said, we have a few bullets in our gun. I know this, the holsters will be empty when we leave the field. We call them race cars. Nos. 2, 5, 10 and 35 must touch the ball. If those guys get a chance to touch the ball then we should have a fine time. But we are going up against a very fast and formidable opponent."
Stewart's numerical list refers, in order, to WVU's main skill position players: wide receiver Darius Reynuad, quarterback Patrick White, tailback Steve Slaton and fullback Owen Schmitt. The foursome has combined for the vast majority of Mountaineer offense this season. Only Schmitt is a senior. The other three are juniors in eligibility standing. Reynaud is a senior academically, and can return if he graduates in May. He was one of the schools last Prop 48 players before the Big East disallowed prop players.
Stewart also noted West Virginia's health. No. 11 WVU (10-2) has "a few guys dinged up, but it's very minor." There are no players expected to miss the Fiesta Bowl. White has fully recovered after dislocated his thumb during the Pitt game. Oklahoma is fully healthy as well, though has also suffered academic and other casualties. It is not expected to slow a squad ranked in the NCAA top 20 in every major statistical category.
"I see a lot of speed," Stewart said. "I see a lot of size. And a lot of strength. They are ranked nationally in every category on offense and defense. They hit on all three phases. They are really good. And they should be. They're Oklahoma. It's a great tradition and a great football power. They're pretty special and we're not too bad ourselves."
Note: Stewart, on what he remembers about coaching at Arizona State: "Well it was very hot. I had a great time and I worked for a tremendous boss. (Former ASU head coach) Larry Marmie is one of the finest football men I have ever been around. The people out here were just tremendous. My wife liked the heat and I didn't. I'm a seasonal guy. I like the hills of West Virginia and all of fall leaves and all of the fine things that go with our seasons back home.
Stewart also commented on West Virginia's bowl experience: "Well, they've been very pleased. The resort we are staying at, they said, "Man we don't have anything like this back home." I said you haven't seen all of the state. The players are having a ball. I don't want them to have too good of a time because we have to stay focused on the game. They have done very well. This Fiesta Bowl has been the real deal."