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November 14, 2007

West Virginia continues to earn respect

It was all so easy in 2005.

Texas and USC were undefeated, and met to decide the BCS championship. There were no arguments over which team should and or shouldn't play in the championship game.

This season, there are two teams that could finish undefeated, but a Hawaii-Kansas matchup would spark more debate than a Point/Counterpoint marathon.

It's understood this season's BCS title game will include at least one one-loss team, but which one?

LSU, ranked No. 1 in the BCS, generally is regarded as a shoo-in if the Tigers win out. And unless Kansas finishes undefeated which would require beating one-loss teams Oklahoma and Missouri there will be considerable debate over which team should face them.

Oregon? Oklahoma? Missouri?

Hey, anybody out there remember West Virginia?

The Mountaineers (8-1) haven't been included in many, if any, national-championship discussions since losing on the road at then-No. 18 USF on Sept. 28, but a closer inspection reveals perhaps they should. That is, provided West Virginia finishes with victories over nationally ranked Cincinnati plus Connecticut and Pittsburgh.

As a member of the maligned Big East, West Virginia is easily dismissed. But the Mountaineers' resume includes a victory over the ACC's Maryland, which just knocked off then-No. 8 Boston College, and a 38-13 blasting of the SEC's Mississippi State, a victory that looks more impressive by the week.

Mississippi State (6-4) could conceivably finish with eight victories and already has wins over Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama.

West Virginia advocates could point out the Mountaineers' lone loss was on the road, while Oregon's was at home against California. Edge: West Virginia.

The Mountaineers could also point out USF is 7-3, while Oklahoma lost on the road to Colorado, which is just 5-6. Edge: West Virginia.

Missouri's loss was at Oklahoma, a rebuttal that West Virginia couldn't argue. But Missouri, with Kansas and likely Oklahoma remaining to be played, is in danger of losing again.

While an argument could be made that West Virginia could be underrated at sixth in the BCS standings, the Mountaineers aren't making one. Rather, coach Rich Rodriguez is only talking about winning this weekend's game against Cincinnati, which may be the Mountaineers' biggest remaining obstacle to winning the Big East title.

"They're very athletic," Rodriguez said of the Bearcats. "They're playing with a lot of confidence. They've completely bought into what Coach (Brian) Kelly and his staff are doing, and it's going to be a tough atmosphere at their place so we've got to be ready to go."

Perhaps West Virginia's greatest concern is that Cincinnati leads the nation with 35 forced turnovers. Getting that many doesn't happen by accident.

And while the Mountaineers boast some of the nation's most exciting big-play threats in quarterback Patrick White and tailbacks Steve Slaton and Noel Devine, they also have a tendency to lose the football in big games.

The Mountaineers had six turnovers including an interception returned for a touchdown in their loss to USF. They also had three lost fumbles in last week's 38-31 victory over Louisville.

"I know Cincinnati is one of the best in the country at creating turnovers, and we can't afford to have any if we expect to win the game," Rodriguez said. "There have only been two games this year that we've not done well. One was a loss, and the last game it almost cost us but we were able to pull it out."

Should the Mountaineers win their remaining games and finish 11-1, perhaps they will get back into the national-championship discussion.

At the least, they will be able to start an argument.

Trivia Question

Last week, top-ranked Ohio State lost at home to Illinois. What was the last No. 1 team to lose at home? (Answer at the end of the column.)

For the birds

Wyoming coach Joe Glenn offered an apology for making a well-known obscene gesture at the Utah sideline last Saturday.

Glenn received a public reprimand from the Mountain West Conference for violating the league's sportsmanship policy.

Glenn had guaranteed that Wyoming (5-5), which has lost four of its past five games, would defeat Utah. Apparently in response, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham ordered an onside kick after taking a 43-0 lead in the third quarter.

That raised the ire of Glenn, who then raised a finger.

"Football is an emotional game, and I let my emotions get the best of me," said Glenn, who originally claimed he did not remember the incident. "I felt it was appropriate for me to let my team and all fans know that I am truly sorry for that emotional moment."

There has been no apology from Whittingham for the onside kick.

Many happy returns

Moving the pitcher's mound back a few feet in baseball would enhance hitting. Likewise, the decision to move the point of kickoff back 5 yards has enhanced hitting the big return.

According to cfbstats.com, there have been 51 kickoffs returned for touchdowns on 5,237 attempts this season.

By comparison there were 80 kickoffs returned on 9,820 attempts in the 2005 and '06 seasons combined.

This season, there are nine players who have at least two kickoff returns for touchdown, led by UCLA's Matt Slater, who has three. Last season, only three players scored on at least two kickoff return.

Perhaps the increase in touchdowns is because the extra 5 yards allows return specialists to build up more speed and gives blockers better angles. Or it may just be that there are more touchdowns because there are more returns.

Chances are

Ohio State's loss to Illinois last week was devastating, but not all Buckeyes fans have lost hope of playing for a national championship.

An optimistic e-mailer from Columbus, who asked to remain anonymous, pointed out that the Buckeyes, who dropped to No. 7 in the BCS standings, need only to climb back to No. 2, and could do that if

1. The Buckeyes beat Michigan and
2. LSU loses one of its remaining games and
3. Oregon loses one of its remaining games and
4. Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri lose and
5. West Virginia loses one of its remaining games.

So what you're saying is there's a chance. I hear you.

Quick Hits

  • The Big 12 Conference has publicly reprimanded and assessed a $10,000 fine to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach for his post-game comments after the Red Raiders' 59-43 loss to Texas last week. Leach pointed out that one official resided in Austin and questioned the crew's impartiality. Besides the fine, Leach was advised that further remarks could result in more penalties, including possible suspension.

  • Oklahoma State announced that sophomore linebacker Chris Collins was permanently dismissed from the team after he pleaded guilty to felony aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl. Collins was 17 at the time of the incident.

  • Clemson and South Carolina are changing traditions in the wake of an Oct. 28 fire that killed seven South Carolina students. Clemson has canceled "Cocky's Funeral," a tradition in which South Carolina's mascot is burned in effigy. In turn, South Carolina is expected to cancel the "Tigerburn," a similar tradition.

  • Michigan coach Lloyd Carr hasn't been candid about the future. He hasn't addressed reports that he's planning to retire, and he wouldn't give any indication whether two injured Wolverines stars -- quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart -- will play against Ohio State. "We'll have to see on Saturday," Carr said.

  • Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel said he's 99.9 percent sure he'll play Saturday against Pittsburgh. A thumb injury prevented Teel from playing in last week's victory over Army.

  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is hoping for some help from his brother. Mike Stoops coaches Arizona, which plays host to Oregon on Thursday night. Oregon is ranked two spots ahead of Oklahoma in the BCS standings and an Arizona win could put the Sooners in control of their destiny in reaching the BCS championship game. "We talk about a few things, overall what we've seen or something that pertains, casually," Bob Stoops said. "They've got a good feel for what they need to do."

  • Sometimes coaches dismiss the significance of statistics, but embattled Nebraska coach Bill Callahan isn't one of those in the wake of his team's 73-31 victory over Kansas State. "Everybody's very critical of myself about how our offense is too complicated and it's too this and it's too that," Callahan said. "But the fact remains the numbers don't lie and the performance of these players doesn't lie. It's all out there."

  • Wisconsin tailback P.J. Hill had just five carries in last week's win over Michigan because of a leg injury, but he's expected to play on Saturday against Minnesota. Also, wide receiver Marcus Randle El has left the team because of knee injuries.

    Trivia Answer

    No. 1 Ohio State lost at home to Michigan State 28-24 on Nov. 7, 1998.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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