"I can't stop people from talking about it and putting it out there, but we're not even done with the regular season," Stewart said. "We weren't even off the field [after the Pitt game] when I started hearing Gator Bowl this and Meineke Car Care Bowl that. We aren't even finished with the regular season yet."
Of course, part of Stewart's concern about bowl talk is the fact that it removes focus from the task at hand – Rutgers. It's the mantra of every coach to play them one at a time, and put all energy and concentration into the next contest, and not worrying about the future. It's a sensible and solid approach, and one that attempts to remove distractions. It's also repeated so many times that it has long since passed into the realm of cliché, and thus is routinely ignored by many.
Stewart won't have to go far to show his team examples of the dangers of looking ahead. Just two seasons ago, there was the loss to Pitt in the final game of the regular season when many had already booked their travel plans for New Orleans. He'll also lean on his senior class, and use them as a conduit through which he communicates his message.
"I'm gonna tell them its round 7 of the Big East season," he said of the game that will determine West Virginia's spot in the league standings. "I want to be 5-2 in the league and finish second (which it can do with a win and a Pitt loss to Cincinnati.)"
Squelching talk among fans, (and, freely admitted, the media) will be difficult. Stewart hopes to keep that discussion, at least that which occurs within earshot of his team, to a minimum. Not only could it remove attention on the game, but things outside of WVU's control (such as, for instance, a Cincinnati loss to Pitt) could knock West Virginia from a spot in a bowl through no shortcoming of its own. That couls lead to the sort of disappointment that West Virginis experienced in 2002, when it thought it was going to the Gator Bowl, only to land in the Continental Tire Bowl. That lead to a desultory effort and a 48-22 loss in a game in which the Mountaineers were clearly not prepared mentally.
Such occurrences live long in the memories of coaches, although they are quickly forgotten by fans. Therefore, speculation about future possibilities is something most coaches simply don't have the inclination, or the time, to address. They see the negative effects such activity can have, and thus want to keep the eyes of their teams on the here and now.
"Let us get through game 12, before we worry about game 13," Stewart said of his outlook. "If we can keep the focus on Rutgers, that will be a great help to the players and coaches."