Year-End Thoughts

Time for a holiday casserole of thoughts and observations as the year draws to a close.

Just as losses are viewed by some extremists as calamities that will crush a program from all directions, so too can wins be somewhat overcooked. That's not to say that WVU's bowl win over North Carolina should be discounted in any measure of course – in addition to being a great cap to the career of the senior class, it also provides such niceties as being able to say that WVU is on a four-game bowl winning streak, and continues to dominate the ACC (more on that in a moment). The good feelings from a bowl win can also certainly help returning players get through the long winter workout season – it has to feel good to see those bowl logos in the Puskar Center and the championship trophies prominently displayed. However, the win also doesn't signal that everything is 100% right with the program – a fact that Bill Stewart and his coaching staff readily acknowledges. It doesn't mean that WVU will magically fix lingering performance woes such as power running or kickoff coverage, or get every recruit that remains on the fence (especially a couple that have both the Mountaineers and Tar Heels on their final lists). In the final analysis, the win is clearly a good one. It's another building block in the reconstruction of the team. But it doesn't mean that an 11-win season is an automatic next year.

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On that subject, I'm already being asked about next year. There's still so much to get through, including recruiting, returnees, the inevitable attrition, recovery from injury, etc. that a pick is nothing more than a WAG at this point. So, while I'm nowhere near ready to fire out a predicted record yet, I will say this. Last year, I woefully underestimated the effect of the loss of players such as Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and Darius Reynaud. Losing the greatest player in the history of Mountaineer football has to be just as big, doesn't it?

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Over the past few seasons, WVU's football and basketball teams have been relatively injury free. Of course, there were missed games and lost time here and there, but the Mountaineers were mostly able to avoid rashes of hurts, or attrition at the same position. (Maybe all of the bad injury karma was sucked up by the women's team, which has had more casualties than the Confederacy at the Battle of Antietam.)

This year, however, neither of those squads has been able to dodge the bullet. On the hoops side, Joe Mazzulla, Alex Ruoff, Jonnie West, Cam Thoroughman and Devin Ebanks have all missed time, with Mazzulla perhaps sidelined for the year. And in football, the list is even longer, with numerous backups dotting the starting lineup in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The fact that both teams have been able to overcome those setbacks speaks to the determination of the players, both starters and backups, as well as to the coaching job done by both staffs.

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How lovely it is to see two Big East teams smack two ACC squads over the past three days. WVU's win over North Carolina, coupled with Rutgers' rallying win over North Carolina State, gives the Big East a 3-0 bowl record. The ACC shows just a 2-3 slate to this point.

Of course, there's still a long way to go, but results like this give a nice little addition to watching other games. Seeing those scores roll by over and over has to be a shot in the heart to the robber barons of the ACC.

Now, before you say it's time to get over the raid, I'll agree with you to a point. But there is always going to be a smidge of bitterness over the ACC's behind the scenes sleaziness. However, there's another reason to rejoice in these wins – the battle of perception. The Big East overlays the ACC footprint moreso than any other conference, and thus competes more directly with it in terms of perception, not to mention recruiting, than any other league. And while I know that wins and losses don't totally determine the victors in those areas, they certainly don't hurt. And as a plus, they serve as vital ammunition to knock your ACC opponent off his barstool in your next debate.

The Big East has a good chance to win all of its remaining bowl games, with Pitt (vs. Oregon State), Cincinnati (Virginia Tech) and Connecticut (Buffalo) each facing manageable foes. And I'll be rooting for two of them.

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How big was WVU's win over Ohio State? In light of an RPI adjustment this year that gives a little less credit for home wins and more for road triumphs, it's pretty big. Of course, its impact might be lessened if the Buckeyes implode, and there are a couple of small signs that might be occurring, due to injury and a surprising release of a highly-regarded freshman team member. The same could happen to Mississippi, which was a certain NCAA team before devastating injuries have put them behind the eight ball. I'm not going negative here, however. West Virginia is in good shape in the RPI at the moment, and should remain in respectable shape if it can record a solid number of wins the rest of the way. Eleven wins should do it.

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