WVU Looks To Continue Run
MORGANTOWN – The Big 12 expansion sweepstakes are done for now, leaving No. 24 West Virginia and Louisville to focus on bragging rights within their own conference – that is, their own conference for now.
A week after the Mountaineers were selected over Louisville to join the Big 12, their football teams meet Saturday in a game that will affect the Big East title chase.
West Virginia (6-2 overall, 2-1 Big East) has the league’s top offense and will go up against the conference’s No. 1 defense in Louisville (4-4, 2-1).
“We’re preparing the same way we do every week,” West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith said. “We’re getting ready for a tough opponent. Those guys are going to come in here fired up, so we have to be ready to play those guys.”
The winner would take a share of first place if No. 23 Cincinnati loses Saturday at Pittsburgh.
It’s unclear whether this will be the last time the two schools meet. West Virginia wants to begin Big 12 play next season. The university filed a lawsuit against the Big East on Monday, seeking to declare invalid the Big East bylaws that require West Virginia to stay put for 27 months.
Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said his players have been avoiding getting caught up in the hype.
“I think our guys did a good job of just focusing on the task at hand,” Holgorsen said.
Last week, West Virginia was set to announce the conference switch when Louisville made a late push for inclusion that reportedly involved a phone call from Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Louisville alum, to Big 12 officials.
That prompted strong reactions from West Virginia’s two U.S. senators, who insisted that politics stay out of the selection process.
West Virginia officials were told to put the announcement on hold for a few days until the Big 12 sorted things out. The Mountaineers were welcomed as its newest member on Oct. 28, while Louisville will remain in the Big East.
Fans of both schools can’t keep their minds off it. Louisville fans posting online have vowed revenge for the Cardinals not getting selected to the Big 12, while West Virginia followers point to the Mountaineers’ 10-2 advantage in a series that’s produced some memorable results.
A triple-overtime thriller in 2005 helped send West Virginia to the Sugar Bowl. The next year, a top 10 Louisville team won a matchup of unbeatens en route to an Orange Bowl berth.
In 2007, Louisville came from 17 points down to tie the score, only to see WVU win it on a late TD by Pat White. The next year, White ran for 200 yards against the Cardinals to set an NCAA career record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
The Mountaineers have won the last four meetings and are two-touchdown favorites this time.
Louisville’s players prefer to focus on the rivalry and not any form of payback, either from past losses or the Big 12 issue.
“West Virginia is a solid team and we’re just coming out here to play and to end that streak of four years that they have on us,” Louisville tight end Josh Chichester said.
The quarterbacks will take center stage again this time.
While Smith leads the conference with 339 passing yards per game and 20 TD passes, West Virginia will be facing a freshman quarterback for the second straight week.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater threw for two scores in a 27-10 victory against Syracuse last week. He’s thrown for seven TDs and five interceptions after taking over for Will Stein in the fourth game of the season.
“We get to him a couple times, hopefully he’ll get rattled a little bit,” West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin said. “But Teddy Bridgewater is a good athlete. He’s going to be real good in the future, so we’ve got to jump on him quick while he’s a freshman and try to take advantage of that.”