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Mountaineer Minute: Memories Will Be Different for Tandy, Miller

December 1, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - As we know, time is a great healer of all wounds.

For West Virginia players like Julian Miller and Keith Tandy, a pair of redshirt seniors, they'll be gunning for what will be their third share of a Big East championship in their five years as Mountaineers when they play at South Florida tonight.

They've got a shot at a second BCS bowl berth during their time in Morgantown, or they could be looking at a second straight share of the title and a lower-level bowl game.

Considering the Mountaineers were favored in nearly every league game during these seniors' careers, what will these guys think of their legacy?

Will it be playing for teams that captured three Big East shared titles, a blanket statement that requires no one to look up details? Or will it be one regret for an inexplicable loss to Syracuse after another?

That 26-point victory by the Orange on Oct. 21 remains its lone league victory in 2011.

''I think, looking back, I will look more toward the fact that it is three Big East Championships,'' said Miller, the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Week after a 12-tackle, four-sack performance against Pitt last week on his birthday. ''I can come back here as an alumni and look up on the board or somewhere and it says Big East Conference Champions this year and that year and so forth. And I can come back and see the Big East trophies.

''Because that's really what's going to matter and that's what's going to hold the staple in this program. Yeah, it's college football, and in a career of a football player, you're going to have those tough games, those games that mean a lot to you, those big win games, but overall if your team makes plays and comes up with the wins when you need to, and ultimately comes out as conference champions, I think that's the thing that you try to keep with you and that's what you're going to remember overall.''

Tandy has different feelings on the matter. What happens 10 years from now when he comes back to the Puskar and sees those banners, which won't say co-champions, or tri-champions. They'll just say champions?

''I think you usually remember the games you lose,'' Tandy said. ''A play here and a play there in the games you lost and you could have gone to the BCS game with no controversy or anything, no sharing the title. I'll definitely be thinking about the games we missed.''

What about a guy like quarterback Geno Smith, a big reason for WVU's success the last few years. He's still got another season, but he's already in a second straight year waiting until the last game to find out if he's getting some BCS gifts, or packing up for a bowl in Alabama.

''Knowing me, I'm going to think about it probably up until the day I die,'' Smith said. ''Just thinking about those losses because we had a great opportunity. We still have one, I'm not going to sit here and say those losses didn't mean anything to us, because they were obstacles that we had to get over and learn from and ultimately, they helped us. I'm going to think about it because I hate to lose, but all in all, winning the Big East is still our goal and we still reached it.''

Head coach Dana Holgorsen is going through this for the first time. But he's noticed the way the league has gone the last few years, certainly as it pertains to WVU. After a few losses, it's no longer in your hands. He seems to have accepted that, presumably because unlike Miller and Tandy, his Mountaineers career will continue well into the future.

''I'll take it,'' Holgorsen said. ''I wish we could have a few of those games back that we didn't win, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's like a couple of big victories that we had. We put those to rest. This is what it's about. We have a national TV game, a quality opponent. If we win the game, we get a share of the Big East conference championship. That's where we wanted to be at the beginning of the year and it's right there for us. Would we have liked to have won a couple of the games and had it wrapped up now? Yes, us and everybody else is like that. But what it is is reality. And the reality is we put ourselves in position to win the Big East. And we'll take it.''

Running back Shawne Alston, a junior who has scored the winning touchdown in the last two games and has 10 on the season, too, has mixed emotions about all of this.

''I think we have been able to battle adversity better; we're closer now,'' he said. ''When you start losing, a couple people get down on you. Sometimes the only person you can really lean on is your other teammates.

''I think we always had a lot of confidence. I know personally, I've always had a lot of confidence. I still just can't believe we lost to the teams we lost to. But as a competitor, you always have to have confidence in yourself, or you've got nothing.''

If the Mountaineers win tonight, regardless of what happens in Saturday's Cincinnati-UConn game, they will have a Big East crown for the sixth time in nine seasons (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011).

West Virginia has finished no worse than 5-2, or worse than second place in the league every season since 2002.

It's something that looks great in the media guides and game notes, and something that's great to tell recruits, but, as some of the guys in the arena during those years will tell you, it's a little hollow, too.

The reality is three teams shared the title last year and two more could this year. That's five banners for two seasons of Big East football. In 2007, West Virginia beat UConn by 40 the next-to-last game of the season. Then the Mountaineers lost to Pitt and gave the Huskies a share of the title.

''Right now this is the only game on the schedule and you better give it everything you've got,'' Holgorsen said. ''This team will be remembered by what happens on Thursday night.''

For better or worse.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at elliott@theintelligencer.net