WEST VIRGINIA: Players say sole focus is USF win

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West Virginia has a short week to prepare for its final regular-season game of the year Thursday at South Florida.

And make no mistake, a lot is on the line.

The Mountaineers must beat South Florida to earn a share of the Big East Conference title and pull for Cincinnati to beat Connecticut. If that scenario plays out, West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville would tie for the Big East title and the Mountaineers would get the league's BCS bowl bid because of tiebreakers.

If either West Virginia or Cincinnati loses, a non BCS bowl game is on the horizon for the Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East).

West Virginia climbed back into the BCS standings Sunday night, to No. 23, and is the only ranked Big East team.

That is an important development if the conference does end in a three-way tie among Louisville, West Virgina and Cincinnati. Each team would be 1-1 head to head, and the next tiebreaker to earn the BCS bid is BCS rankings.

"I mean, I could care less about all that," said quarterback Geno Smith. "My big thing is winning every game here. Whatever happens in the end, that's up to whoever decides that. The only thing I can focus on is leading this team, being a good teammate."

Coach Dana Holgorsen said he is sure his players are well aware of the scenario, but stressed that the details won't be talked about internally.

"Only thing we can do is focus on what we do. We've got another big game here, six nights from tonight," he said after the team's 21-20 win against Pitt Friday. "We can't control what Cincinnati does or any of that. So we're not going to talk about it. We're going to worry about winning at South Florida."

Linebacker Najee Goode said Friday night's performance by the defense will boost the group's confidence against South Florida.

West Virginia had Tino Sunseri under pressure all night, sacking him 10 times, holding the Panthers offense to 4 of 20 on third downs and making them settle for field goals twice.

And they did it in a game filled with gaffes galore on offense and special teams.

"We've got confidence in our D-line to get ready for B.J. Daniels, or whoever plays at quarterback for South Florida," said Goode. "We're one step closer to a Big East championship and whatever happens with the BCS."

South Florida used backup quarterback Bobby Eveld after Daniels suffered a shoulder injury against Louisville Friday, but the starter's return is possible by Thursday.

West Virginia struggled on offense against Pitt, had minus-2 rushing yards at the half and trailed 14-0 early.

The play calling changed in the second half to more run plays and screens to take pressure off the offensive line, but a few personnel changes also were made as Curtis Feight and Quinton Spain were inserted onto the line.

"It helped," said Holgorsen. "We tell everybody that they're going to be held accountable for what they do. If they're not playing well, we're going to replace you. We had some issues with a couple of the guys up front. No different than what we did with [punter] Corey Smith after game three. A lot of times you don't know how they'll react until the game."

The game was another example, said Holgorsen, of his team buying into the idea that energy and support for teammates matters in messy games when things go wrong.

"We had a tremendous amount of excitement on the sidelines in the second half and didn't quit," said Holgorsen. "There's some things that happened offensively that we could've quit on and we didn't. The defense just played tremendous."

Players think it will carry over to Thursday's game in Tampa, Fla.

"[Friday night] we asked the guys to come together at halftime and they did," said Goode. "As of right now we've just got to go back to the drawing board and get ready for a new team. We've only got six days."

And the rest will work itself out, said Holgorsen.

"[This was] our eighth win, and we've got a chance to get to nine next week. We're going to play in a bowl game. And all bowl games are fun, so we'll let that sort itself out."


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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