Bowl eligibility steep climb for West Virginia


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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When the West Virginia football players walked into the team meeting room Sunday, one day after a 35-12 loss against Kansas State, they found the whiteboards wiped clean.

Gone were the players’ grades. Gone were the weekly team goals. Gone were the helmet stickers representing the first eight opponents; they’d been lifted off, leaving only four: TCU, Texas, Kansas and Iowa State.

“We’re starting over,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. “Four games left — it’s a new season.”

At the dawn of November, West Virginia has hit the reset button. The Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) are on a three-game skid and need three wins in their final four games to be bowl-eligible.

The steep ascent up the mountain face toward the critical six wins begins Saturday, when West Virginia travels to Fort Worth, Texas, to face TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12).

“It’s hitting hard now,” redshirt senior nose tackle Shaq Rowell said. “This week is a pivotal game for us. We have to win this week. I don’t care if TCU is going to see this interview or not, but we have to beat these guys. They’re just like us — 3-5, both lagging.

“Whoever wins this game is going to go bowling. Period, point blank. Whoever loses is not going to a bowl game.”

The Mountaineers have yet to win away from Morgantown this season, absorbing road loses against Oklahoma, Maryland, Baylor and Kansas State. They held a second consecutive third-quarter lead last Saturday before surrendering 28 consecutive points and swallowing a second consecutive double-digit defeat.

It’s about finishing, Rowell said. It’s about putting together “four perfect quarters.”

“I believe we should be 5-3, not 3-5,” he said.

The first step forward was to look back, to wipe the slate clean.

“What we have done to this point really does not matter,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said, gesturing toward the empty whiteboards. “We need to finish these last four games and keep getting better. Let’s put it in the left lane and see what happens.”

Patterson added: “There’s still a lot to play for.”

West Virginia hasn’t missed a bowl bid since 2001. The Mountaineers schedule is favorable, too, with three of their final four opponents currently sitting in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings. The rallying cry now is to ensure that the seniors go out on the right note.

“It would suck not to have a bowl,” redshirt senior offensive guard Quinton Spain said. “We ask [each other] all the time: Do you want to have a bowl or do you want to go home early? Which one did you come here for?”

Redshirt senior center Pat Eger has fought off ankle injuries the past two weeks to make it back onto the field every day. That included nearly all-day treatment Monday.

Eger said he doesn’t feel a heightening sense of urgency, per se, but there’s no longer time for excuses. This team and this senior class are out of second chances.

“This is my senior year, and I’ve been to four bowl games so far,” Eger said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to not go to a bowl game. I’m pouring every ounce I’ve got in my heart and body for these last four games to win out the season.

“I’m not going to be known for the Orange Bowl win [two years ago]. That’s Donnie Barclay, that’s Julian Miller, that’s Bruce Irvin. I’m going to be known for what happens this year.”


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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