MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's football team practiced for the first time Friday afternoon since news broke that the team was BCS bound.
The practice was the first of 15 afforded to the program because of the bowl game -- and the gap in time will be used to focus on school with finals next week, get healthy, then prepare for the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl game against Clemson.
"I kind of laid it out to them what was expected of them," said coach Dana Holgorsen , who had been on the road recruiting. "If you do it right, you get so many practices and you don't need to practice 15 times for Clemson. It's really another spring practice."
Holgorsen said the team will practice 10 times in Morgantown, then break for Christmas, and practice five times in Miami.
- Game: No. 23 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Clemson.
- When: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 4.
- Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami.
- TV: ESPN.
By season's end, several players -- particularly those on defense -- were spending a fair amount of time in the training room.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said he expects the time off to result in everyone returning for the Orange Bowl.
"That'll help no doubt," Casteel said. "Hopefully, we should have everybody ready to go. ... We're a little beat up. The season is such a long season for these guys. I think they needed some time off."
Count defensive end Bruce Irvin in the mix of players who expect to return closer to full strength. Irvin left the South Florida game early with a hip pointer.
"I'm almost 30 now, I can't bounce back from injuries like I could years ago," joked Irvin. "Oh, I'll be on that field."
Holgorsen stressed to his players that they should continue to get treatment.
"We've got five or guys out there nicked up, not ready to go full speed," he said. "We don't have to push them, either. I gave them five or six key points, and one of them was be smart with your bodies. Make sure even through finals, you've got to find time to come in here. If you're hurt, you need to take care of your bodies, you need to rest, you need to recover."
Quarterback Geno Smith said he didn't feel snubbed by not winning the Big East Conference award for offensive player of the year. The honor went to Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead .
"It'd be selfish of me to sit here and gripe about it," Smith said. "My hat goes off to Isaiah Pead. He deserved it. He's a really good player."
Smith also said receiver and longtime teammate Stedman Bailey -- the two went to high school together in Miramar, Fla. -- should have been at least on the first team. Bailey was named to the second team.
"Stedman, I feel like really got robbed," Smith said. "He's one of the best players in our league. He kind of put this league on the map as far as explosive receivers go. For them not to put him on first team doesn't say much about this conference right now."
Several players watched the Cincinnati-Connecticut game together Saturday, rooting for the Bearcats to win and put one of the final pieces into place to allow the Mountaineers to get the Orange Bowl bid.
"Everyone was confident. We felt like we'd done what we needed to take care of," said Smith. "Cincinnati did a good job winning the game. Everyone was relaxed just having fun."
Julian Miller was in Charlotte, N.C., at a family party for a former teammate and watched the game with friends who went to the University of Cincinnati.
"It was kind of awkward rooting for Cincinnati with them," said Miller. "They know why I was rooting for Cincinnati. They'd be saying 'Yeah' at the same time and would also give me a little look."
Holgorsen has been to a bowl game 13 consecutive seasons and said there is a fine line between preparing and overpreparing.
"One thing is we want to get work done here. Once you get down there, it is a reward, so you want them to enjoy it," he said.
"You don't want them to enjoy it so much that they are worn out, though. It is a tricky balance, but we have a pretty good idea. This is my 13th in a row, so we have had some success and had some positives as well as negatives."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959. First Published December 10, 2011 5:00 AM