Looking Back, Looking Forward

There was so much going on last weekend, we barely had the chance to take it all in. Here's a look back, with observations, thoughts, and a few peeks at the bowl future.

Of course, any win over Pitt is reason enough to celebrate, but West Virginia's 19-16 win over the Panthers in the Backyard Brawl was one for, if not for the ages, at least for the decade. The aftermath of WVU's victory, which Pitt fans (both of them) have been trying to downplay ever since, has been something to enjoy, but it has also provided several points to ponder.

First, West Virginia's defense, despite yielding more rushing yardage than it normally does, has managed to control potent offenses in its last couple of outings. WVU has given up some big runs, most of them coming when it lost containment on the corners, but it has also done better at limiting opposing passing gains. Only a late bomb to Jonathan Baldwin has marred WVU's deep pass defense, and the Mountaineers have also done much better at limiting the crossing routes that have caused so much damage over the past couple of seasons. Might the Mountaineers be playing a bit more against the pass and thus becoming a little more susceptible to the run? That's a possibility, but it's also true that many of the big gains on the ground have come due to missed tackles or lack of assignment coverage on cutbacks and quick sweeps. In other words, given proper execution, West Virginia should have had a defender in position to make plays and limit those gains.

That might be a concern for the Rutgers game, as the Scarlet Knights have a couple of different weapons it can deploy on the ground. We'll talk more about those later this week, but suffice it to say for now that Rutgers has the ability to move the ball via the run or the pass, making for a difficult defensive challenge.

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There are more "high-profile" college football coaching jobs open right now than at any time in recent memory. While some are going to be filled by pre-ordination (Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, for example), some of the other job openings and hirings will cause a huge ripple effect across the land. Who would Cincinnati hire if Brian Kelly departs? Can Notre Dame lure a Bob Stoops or an Urban Meyer from programs that long ago left the Irish in the dust? And who would step in at those schools? It all promises to be a very interesting, if mostly speculative, next few weeks.

By the way, there was no way that any sort of "Reduced role" was going to work for Bobby Bowden at FSU. He had to either retire, or come back as head coach. Can you imagine the confusion any sort of hybrid arrangement would have caused, and how other teams would have used it to blast the Seminoles in recruiting?

My one wish is that coaches would be just a little more up front in addressing these issues. While they don't need to go into details, what's wrong with saying, "Notre Dame has contacted me, and I am listening to what they have to say?" This public relations dance of trying to appear loyal to the current school while negotiating at arm's length, via agents, with others is a total sham.

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West Virginia's math-up with Portland was a collision of top-ten RPI teams, but who would have guessed that the result would have vaulted the Mountaineers to the top of the heap on Tuesday. That's just what happened, as my friend Bill informed me. "Have you looked at the RPIs today?" he asked me. A quick check showed, yep, the Mountaineers at the top spot in the ratings system. That's likely the first time in the existence of the RPI that WVU has been in the top spot, and it's certainly a cause for at least a fist pump or two.

While WVU might not hold that position, as it faces Duquesne and Coppin State over the next couple of games, it's clear that the Mountaineers won't fall far in the tool that's used to help select and seed the NCAA tournament.

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I've written this section about ten times, and have to keep editing it as the bowl picture, or at least certain views of it, keep changing. Here's what you need to know, and what you should pay attention to.

First, the bowl predictions put out by most national web sites don't give an accurate picture of what's going on. Read 'em, and forget 'em.

Second, there looks to be two camps concerning the Gator Bowl and West Virginia's possible opponent in it. (WVU, I would say, is about a 90% certainly for Jacksonville, although I still think that a Cincinnati loss to Pitt and a WVU loss to Rutgers could sway things just a bit. Still, it's apparent from at least one inside source that the Gator does not think Cincinnati would travel well should it lose to the Panthers, and that the Gator would still pass on the Bearcats.)

The first pushes Clemson, noting that the Tigers travel well. This assumes, of course, a Georgia Tech win over the them in the ACC championship game. The one negative to this scenario is that Clemson played the the Gator Bowl last year as well, but if the bowl thinks that CU will still travel, that probably won't bother them greatly. WVU had such a repeat visit in 2004-05, and followed it up with a third-time's-the-charm win in 2007.

The second espouses Florida State, which, through several behind the scenes machinations, could emerge as the ACC's representative in the game. The Noles are within two league wins of everyone except Georgia Tech in the league, which would allow FSU to jump into the Gator Bowl ahead of anyone except the Yellow Jackets. That again presumes a GT win in the ACC championship game.

If neither of those pan out, Virginia Tech is an option, although the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is said to seriously covet the Hokies. Barring a Clemson win in the title bout, which could send Georgia Tech back to Atlanta again (although the Jackets were toasted in that game a year ago), it looks as if a VT-WVU match-up might be trailing the field. Miami and Boston College? Something very strange would have to happen to get either of those teams to Jacksonville, as a traveling gypsy road show brings more fans with them than either of those schools.

What does all this tell us? First and foremost, that the "picking" of teams for bowl games based on a strict selection is a sham. There's more politicking going on in this process than in any South American banana republic. The only thing the bowl alignments have done is allow conferences to package and lobby for their teams with a certain bloc of bowls.

Imagine if West Virginia was in Cincinnati's shoes. A loss to Pitt, its first of the season, could push the Bearcats all the way to the Meineke Bowl. If WVU was in that situation right now, you'd be able to hear the howls all the way to Jacksonville

Of course, I'm not complaining about this. WVU has come out on the short end of such issues in other years, so if it falls out that way, I'm just viewing it as payback.

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