By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. —
If the Orange Bowl was West Virginia University’s farewell to the Big East, as the school says it will be, even in the face of lawsuits trying to force the Mountaineers to put off their move to the Big 12 for 27 months, it is one hell of a going away gift.
The Big East, you see, was a conference shrinking in prestige by the day, its very spot in the BCS process in jeopardy and its conference the laughing stock of America from San Diego to Providence, R.I.
The perception, in fact, had been that the Big East could not compete at the BCS level, but the conference found an interesting and surprising backer in WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. When the Big East’s lack of success in BCS bowls was brought up, Holgorsen disagreed strongly.
“I’ve got two comments on that,” he began. “One, and I’ve only been there a year, I know, but West Virginia has won three BCS games in the last six years, which is a pretty good track record. You know, and West Virginia has been in the Big East for the last six years last time I checked. So I think that’s a pretty good track record.”
Holgorsen wasn’t through defending this conference that his bosses are trying to escape.
“And then going through the Big East schedule one year, we had some pretty tough games. We lost a couple of those, and then the ones that we won were tough. So the product at West Virginia was out there. There were a lot of teams in the Big East that gave us all we wanted,” he said.
Quarterback Geno Smith’s feelings were similar.
“I think people underestimate the Big East,” Smith said. “We play someone out of conference, someone who hasn’t seen what we have, we put up points.”
In six non-conference games the Mountaineers scored 272 points, an average of 45.4 points a game … and that includes a game against No. 1 LSU and its magnificent defense, one that gave up 533 yards to this WVU offense.
Certainly more than the ACC champion Clemson could give them.
This 70-33 beating was more, though, than just a springboard for the Mountaineers to the Big 12.
They are suddenly thinking of bigger and better things.
They are thinking of a national championship.
Indeed, what they accomplished this year, a share of the Big East title, an Orange Bowl championship, was done with less than a full season as Dana Holgorsen as head coach. It came without so much as one of his own recruiting classes being on board.
This Orange Bowl victory said “we are here now, but wait until you see us next year.”
Geno Smith, who simply threw six touchdowns among his 31 completions good for 401 passing yards in a record-shattering performance, was asked if he saw the victory as springboard to next year.
“Oh, definitely, but you know, we can’t take it lightly. We’ve got to go back and get back to work and try and work twice as hard as we did last season, if we want to be back here next year. We believe that we’re contenders, but we’ve definitely got to come out and prove it,” he said.
“I’m not satisfied. We’re not satisfied,” Smith continued. “You know, we can always improve. I felt like I still left some yards out there, still left some plays out there, some things I want to have back. But overall it was a good game. I’m not going to sit here and say we didn’t play well because obviously we did.”
That is not Smith just saying the right thing. That is the way he thinks, the way he believes.
Being good is not good enough. Being great isn’t as good as being the greatest.
To him, as it is with Holgorsen, football is a constant challenge to develop and improve. Perfection is the impossible mission.
To reach perfection a number of things must come together, not the least of that being an attitude that drives the players toward perfection. That well may have been what was missing this year when the Mountaineers lost to Syracuse and Louisville.
It was not missing in the Orange Bowl.
This was a team that felt this boiled down to West Virginia against the world. One television poll reported that 83 percent of the nation though Clemson would win. Even in a promo by Brad Nessler the state got no respect, Nessler noting that Clemson would play “another team from Virginia, West Virginia.” not realizing the states became separate in 1863.
“Me and Devon Brown were in the hotel, and it’s the first time I’d seen it,” slot receiver Tavon Austin, who scored four touchdowns, said. “I kind of got mad and turned the TV off and went to sleep. Came down with a great attitude. Coach Holgorsen got us together in our meeting and told us just to believe in ourself and believe in the people in this room, and that’s what we did. We bought into what he said and we got the job done.”
Holgorsen now has their full attention as they go into the off-season and begin preparations for next season. This will not be a getting-to-know-you season but, instead, a season dedicated to one team growing together with the goal of winning a national championship very real in its mind.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bhertzel.