MORGANTOWN - The calendar has flipped, but a scenario involving the Big East's BCS bowl bid and West Virginia is awfully familiar. As WVU and South Florida prepare for tonight's regular-season finale at Raymond James Stadium, the Mountaineers need to win and have UConn lose.
That's the way it was last season, with the only difference being that West Virginia was playing Rutgers at home (and won) and UConn was playing USF (and it didn't lose). A victory in this one and the Bulls (5-6 overall, 1-5 Big East) will play a WVU BCS spoiler for the second straight season, plus, they will become bowl eligible for a sixth consecutive season.
Who saw that as becoming a nail-biting problem in December after South Florida opened the season with a victory at Notre Dame (the only non-conference victory by a league team against Top-25 team this season) then won its next three and was 4-0 and ranked as high as 14th in the coaches poll?
West Virginia's Devon Brown looks to avoid Pittsburgh's Antwuan Reed during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011, in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia won 21-20. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
One reason is injuries. The secondary has been decimated at one time or another with body breakdowns by George Baker, JaQuez Jenkins, Kayvon Webster, Quenton Washington, and Tyson Butler, along with backups Ricardo Dixon and Ernie Tabuteau.
Among those names are five of the eight listed on the two-deep for the Bulls. They finished last week's Louisville game down seven guys in the secondary.
''One of the problems we've had in the secondary is just being able to get the consistency with the guys that are there week in and week out,'' South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. ''It seems like it's been a revolving door. (It's) not really the challenge you want walking into the most explosive offensive team in this league. It will present some challenges for us and we're going to see who's healthy and where we have to put the pieces to the puzzle to go out there and put a defense on the field. You're not going to stop them, but at least you can slow them down a little bit to where we can keep up with them.
''It almost seems like when injuries come they hit certain positions very hard. For us, it's been the secondary and receiver.''
Of the Bulls' piling losses - seven in the last eight games - four have come by four points or less.
That's the thing West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen first noticed.
''We're playing a very good team,'' he said. ''Their record doesn't reflect what kind of a team they are, how well-coached they are, or what kind of players they have. They're sound in their schemes; they've just lost some tough games. We fully expect to get their best.''
That may be without veteran quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has a sprained shoulder. His status remains up in the air against the Mountaineers.
''He was able to throw a little bit (Sunday),'' Holtz said. ''I don't know that he's going to have the velocity on his ball or be able to protect himself. I know he can go out there and run around.''
Daniels ranks 16th nationally at 296 total yards per game. If not, Bobby Eveld, who made his first career start in that finale last season against UConn, will go against WVU.
Eveld started last week and was 20 of 35 for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
''That's one of those things that you've got to be careful how you prepare for it,'' Holgorsen said. ''You don't know who you're going to see. When guys are injured, you don't know if they're truly out or if they're going to play. Daniels is a runner. He's a guy that makes play after play after play. He can make it with his feet, or he can make it with his arm. Even if he does play, he's probably not going to run very much with a shoulder like that. That's pretty dangerous. (Eveld's) probably not as much of a runner as Daniels is, but we don't have a lot of material.''
As it is, West Virginia and quarterback Geno Smith might get a reprieve of sorts on the other side of the ball this week.
''They're No. 1 in the country in sacks,'' Holgorsen noted. ''They're top three in negative plays per game. But they don't blitz too much, which means those guys up front are probably pretty good. By being able to create negative plays with just four guys up front is pretty good. They rotate some guys in there, too, so top to bottom they may be the best defensive line that we've faced.''
USF ranks 34th in the country in total defense - nine spots behind West Virginia at 350 yards per game - but there is this astounding statistic that wildly favors the Bulls on a third side of the ball: They've given up a total of eight punt returns all season for a total of 3 yards.
Given Tavon Austin's recent struggles here, Holgorsen said he'll likely go with Devon Brown, as he did late in the game against Pitt.
As for everything else, the Mountaineers will try to win this one and let the cards fall where they may.
''It is a one-game season,'' Holgorsen said. ''We have to prepare like it is. We talked with them (Sunday) about getting together and moving forward. We've got (this week) to where we can take a break after that, but not now.
''We can't take a break. Whatever we did to prepare to beat Cincinnati, whatever we did to prepare to beat Pitt, we have to do it again. We have to do it right now. We don't have any time to rest or feel good about a victory.
''We can rest after that. The truth of the matter is that it does come down to this one game. It's the only game left. For the bowl game, once we find out where we're playing, right now this is the only game on the schedule, and we better give it everything we've got. This team will be remembered for what happens (tonight).''