By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Normally he comes across as laid back as a California surfer, but on this Monday there was a certain intensity in Dana Holgorsen’s voice and an urgency in the message he was going to relay.
This was not just another football game coming up on Thursday night against South Florida.
Even the Pitt game Friday night, with a full house screaming, with a national television audience and with an entire state’s pride riding on its result, couldn’t match what was coming up far too quickly.
“This game,” said Holgorsen, “is what this team is going to be remembered for.”
This was the signature game, the one where they either would be able to call themselves Big East champions, even though it would be a shared championship, or not. This was the game where the Mountaineers could make their case for a bid to a BCS bowl game, the Orange Bowl, at that.
“You can take the rest of the games and delete them, erase them and forget them,” Holgorsen said. “What this team is going to be remembered for is by what happens this weekend at South Florida.”
By that he meant the good games and the bad games, of which there were about an equal amount. True, they own eight victories and only three defeats, but some of those victories were hardly the kind of stuff that was expected.
Norfolk State, 12-10 at the half ... goodness.
Pitt, down by 10 and being roughed up ... a win it was, but a good game it was not.
Then there were losses to Syracuse, an inexcusable blip on the radar, and a loss to Louisville, a game they know they should have won, even though the Cardinals did come on late in the season to become a decent team.
A decent 7-5 team, that is.
Now, it was down to Louisville and WVU for the Orange Bowl. Across the country you can bet they were rooting for the Big East, the conference everyone likes to kick around — even its own members — to send a 7-5 team into a BCS bowl game.
Tee-hee. Ha, ha!
Holgorsen, though, was saying none of that meant a lick today, not with one game left and the team’s reputation at stake.
Geno Smith, the quarterback, put it this way: “It’s pretty much win or go home.”
Not quite go home, but certainly there would be no time for rubbing elbows with South Beach hotties, no trip through the Everglades.
To get to the Orange Bowl WVU has to beat South Florida. That is step one and, right now, the only step that matters, for without it there is no significance at all to the Cincinnati-Connecticut game. True, WVU not only needs to win but to have Cincinnati win, too.
That leaves the three teams in a tie for first place in the conference and WVU would win the tie-breaker by virtue of being the highest ranked team in the BCS standings. If Cincinnati were to lose and WVU win, then Louisville would get the bid by virtue of its victory over WVU.
So nothing is laid back this week. Practices are being held at night, in part because this is a night game on ESPN with Rece Davis doing the play by play with Craig James and Jesse Palmer joining him in the booth and Jenn Brown patrolling the sidelines.
The night practices fit right in with the 8 p.m. start, getting the team used to playing under the lights, getting it used to waiting around all day, getting it used to ... well, these are young adults and they operate best once the sun goes down.
Holgorsen offered a warning as he spoke. The tendency is to not take South Florida serious because it is last in the conference at 1-5, but that would be a mistake. It is their home game, Senior Day, they are 5-6 and need a sixth victory for a .500 record and to be bowl eligible.
And, yes, their quarterback, B.J. Daniels, missed last week’s game and might even miss this one, but it would be pure folly to plan as if he was definitely out.
“We’re playing a very good team,” Holgorsen maintained. “Their record doesn’t reflect what kind of a team they are, how well coached they are, or what kind of players they have.”
He noted they started 4-0, that they beat Notre Dame, that they had some tough, close losses.
“We fully expect to get their best,” he said.
And to counter that, he must get his own team’s best, for this game is the one that will carry their legacy into West Virginia history.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.