Wacky finish in Big East puts WVU in Orange Bowl
Stedman Bailey, left, Willie Milhouse and West Virginia are headed to the Orange Bowl as the Big East's BCS bid.
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No. 23 West Virginia punched its ticket to its first Orange Bowl Sunday night, capping a wild turn of events in the final week of the season.
The Mountaineers will face No. 15 Clemson, champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, at 8 p.m. Jan. 4 in Miami, marking the program's first appearance in a BCS bowl game since 2008.
"This is really an exciting opportunity for the West Virginia University football program to be able to go to the Discover Orange Bowl for the first time," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "It's going to be a great matchup."
West Virginia, 9-3, was locked in a tie atop the Big East Conference with Louisville and Cincinnati and needed to be the team with the highest BCS ranking to win the BCS bid through tiebreakers.
The Mountaineers finished No. 23 in the BCS standings announced Sunday, the only Big East team in the top 25.
West Virginia and Clemson have prolific passing offenses, with quarterbacks ranked in the top 20 nationally.
West Virginia finished the season ranked No. 7 among Division I schools in passing offense with 341.8 yards per game behind quarterback Geno Smith, and No. 19 in scoring offense at 34.92 points per game.
Clemson, with quarterback Tajh Boyd, finished No. 21 in passing offense with 284.8 yards per game, and 27 in scoring offense with 33.62 points per game.
"I'd be surprised if there's not some points scored in this one. I don't think it'll be a 6-3 ballgame," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Agreed, said Holgorsen, whose team has several players who have broken multiple program records on offense this year.
"I think we match up pretty good. Offensively, we're two pretty exciting teams," said Holgorsen. "Defensively, the only way you win a championship if you have good quality defense."
Swinney praised Holgorsen, one of a few coaches to get to a BCS game in his first season as a head coach.
"It's a great job they have done, especially in his first year as a head coach," said Swinney. "That's a rare accomplishment and not an easy thing to do."
Clemson (10-3) beat Virginia Tech, 38-10, in the ACC championship Saturday night, taking the title for the first time in 20 years.
Boyd threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in the rout, and the Tigers became the only team to beat Virginia Tech this season, doing it twice. West Virginia, on the other hand, needed significant help down the stretch to secure the invite.
After beating South Florida on Thursday in a dramatic comeback win, the Mountaineers still needed Cincinnati to beat Connecticut which would create the three-way tie, and force the league to go to its second tiebreaker -- BCS standings -- as each team was 1-1 head to head.
Before that, the Mountaineers had stayed alive in the BCS picture by beating the Bearcats with a blocked field goal in the waning minutes, then beating Pitt in the Backyard Brawl by a single point with a fourth quarter touchdown.
"Three games in a row it came down to shoot, I think, the last minute of all three games. Maybe even the last few seconds," said Holgorsen. "Regardless of what happens you've got to keep playing, keep playing, keep playing. You've got to win in the end."
NOTES -- West Virginia has 12 players from South Florida on its roster, and six starters, including Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney . ... West Virginia ends the season as the Big East leaders in scoring offense (34.9 points a game), passing offense (341.8 yards a game), total offense (459.6), pass efficiency (148.3), and punt return average (12.3). They finish dead last in sacks (2.33 per game), time of possession (27:37), turnover margin (minus-2), and punting (34.6).
First Published December 5, 2011 12:00 am