Mountaineers could change the postseason landscape tonight

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Forget math as you know it.

Zero is gigantic.

At this time of year in college football, there is no bigger number in the loss column.

Cincinnati, which hosts West Virginia in a Big East Conference game tonight at Nippert Stadium, is one of six teams in Division I-A that can still lay claim to that zero.


Scouting report
  • Matchup: West Virginia (7-2, 3-1 Big East Conference) vs. No. 5 Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0), 8 p.m., tonight, Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bearcats are favored by 9 points.
  • TV/Radio/Internet: ESPN2, WWVA-AM (1170) and Mountaineer Sports Network.
  • West Virginia: Has won five of past six games and is coming off a 17-9 victory against Louisville. ... Has split with Cincinnati the past two seasons in close games, losing in overtime last year; winning by 5 points in 2007. ... Has used slot receiver Jock Sanders at running back in practice this week, in case starter Noel Devine (ankle) needs a rest..
  • Cincinnati: Is off to best start in school history and is coming off a 47-45 win against Connecticut . ... Has won 15 consecutive regular-season games. ... WR Mardy Gilyard leads the Big East with 7.2 receptions per game and 184.3 all-purpose yards per game.
  • Hidden stat: Cincinnati is the only Division I team that has not lost a fumble this season.

Along with Florida, Alabama, Texas, Texas Christian and Boise State, Cincinnati is among the last of the unbeatens.

As West Virginia (7-2, 5-0) heads into this contest against the fifth-ranked Bearcats, Mountaineers nose tackle Chris Neild put things into perspective:

"This is different, this game is definitely different ... when you are facing a team of this caliber and it is this late in the season and they haven't lost, it gives us more motivation to get the job done. There's no question more goes into it. You don't treat it just like another game, you just don't, man."

This is a Cincinnati team fighting not just to roll through the Big East unbeaten, but also attempting to maybe get a shot at a national championship date -- if the top of the polls plays out right for the Bearcats.

Neild knows his team is a nine-point underdog tonight. He understands the Bearcats have become the darlings of the conference under coach Brian Kelly and that many people are pulling for them to get through the regular season unbeaten and throw a wrench into the way the NCAA decides the national football champion.

West Virginia could end all that talk by winning tonight.

"If we can give them our best shot, I think we have a good chance," Neild said. "If we play hard, play tough and play physical, you know, if we do that for 60 minutes, I think we will have a real good chance of coming out on top."

A win that would serve as coach Bill Stewart's signature victory in the time since the interim tag was taken off his title after a Jan. 2, 2008, Fiesta Bowl win against Oklahoma.

Safety Robert Sands also understands what a victory would do tonight.

"They are pretty far up there as one of the best," Sands said of Cincinnati. "We're just going to have to go out and cover all of our assignments. A team like Cincinnati is already in their comfort zone, so they will be coming into the game on a high horse and we need to be able to knock them off."

Is there a secret to knocking off Cincinnati?

"I will say this," Stewart started, paused for a moment and then continued. "West Virginia has to play West Virginia football."


NOTE -- Defensive tackle Scooter Berry pleaded no contest yesterday in Morgantown Municipal Court to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a dispute outside a Morgantown bar. He was fined $200. Court records show a public intoxication charge will be dropped if Berry completes an alcohol education class. Berry was suspended indefinitely following his Oct. 18 arrest. Coach Bill Stewart reinstated the junior for the 17-9 win Saturday against Louisville.


Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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