By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If you listen to Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano, when West Virginia travels to face the Scarlet Knights at 3:30 p.m. Saturday it will be for the Big East championship — sort of.
“We don’t have a championship game at the end of the year. You are playing a championship game every week,” Schiano said, not only on the Big East conference call but also on his own press conference call with the Rutgers media.
In some ways he has a point.
“Some years 5-2 wins league. Who knows what it will be this year?” he said.
Right now only Cincinnati’s record is unblemished, WVU having fallen hard at Syracuse, 49-23, in a game in which they were pushed around badly.
That one loss does, in a way, mean that every game from here on out is a championship game because two losses probably won’t get it this year. Rutgers, for example, has one loss like WVU and would have a tiebreaker with the Mountaineers in its pocket if it were to beat WVU.
It seems somewhat absurd at this point in the season for a game to carry so much meaning, especially a game between WVU and Rutgers, for the Mountaineers have dominated Rutgers over the years. WVU has won 32, lost four and tied two against Rutgers all-time and is 18-2 against the Scarlet Knights in the Big East.
It doesn’t seem to matter who is coaching whom, it doesn’t change and Schiano doesn’t really have an answer for that.
“I don’t know. I mean, they’ve been one of the best teams in the league throughout that time, at least in the new Big East, so — but I don’t know why,” he said when asked about it.
Mostly it has to do with talent. WVU has, over the years, been better than Rutgers, but even when WVU was at its worst, in 2001, Rich Rodriguez’s first season in which he went 3-8, the Mountaineers beat Schiano and Rutgers, 80-7.
It’s like it almost is a West Virginia birthright, this beating Rutgers, but now things are really confused.
First you have the conference situation, where Rutgers has been passed over by the ACC to this point, WVU looks to be headed for the Big 12, and no one knows what is ahead in the future.
Then there is the fact that WVU was looked upon as the class of the Big East, certainly figured to win at Syracuse, which made this game into something it wasn’t supposed to be.
Complicating matters more, Rutgers looked like it might be a pretty good team and it went to Louisville last week and lost 16-14, a terribly disappointing setback.
“It was a very disappointing result in Louisville,” Schiano said. “They played good; we didn’t play very well. We had an opportunity at the end of the game and were unable to move the ball down the field and kick a field goal.
“We have to bounce back and there’s no time to lick our wounds because we have got a good West Virginia team coming to town, I imagine a very angry West Virginia team.”
Angry would be a nice reaction from a team that didn’t seem to have much emotion while Syracuse was beating the blue pants off them.
And now the situation isn’t much different.
“Same type situation,” Coach Dana Holgorsen noted during the Big East call. “We have to go on the road against a well-coached team with a good atmosphere. It will be a challenge. We need to find a way to do a little better job this week.”
What’s interesting is that both Rutgers and West Virginia lost on the road when the home team found a way to take away its strength. Rutgers was known for its pass rush and never got to the quarterback, while WVU was known for its passing game but a severe Syracuse pass rush destroyed the hopes of that bringing about a victory.
What it does do, though, is make you wonder if Rutgers might not find its pass rush again against a WVU team that didn’t protect Geno Smith very much.
“Syracuse blitzed 75 percent of the time, more than I’ve ever been part of,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t handle it for a variety of reasons. Geno wasn’t seeing some things, the receivers didn’t sight adjust. When they were bringing five guys our guys didn’t hold up in pass protection.
“Rutgers will pressure us and we have to handle it better. After a week of practice we will probably be able to handle it a little better.”
If WVU can correct what was wrong and handle the road setting, they won’t win the Big East championship on this Saturday, but they will at least be able to play another championship game the following week ... and another ... and maybe another.
That’s how it is in the Big East.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.