West Virginia becomes Cincinnati's biggest fans after beating USF

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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West Virginia celebrates Dustin Garrison's score over USF. Will they celebrate a BCS berth soon? (US Presswire)  
West Virginia celebrates Dustin Garrison's score over USF. Will they celebrate a BCS berth soon? (US Presswire)  

TAMPA, Fla. -- Inside West Virginia's visiting locker room at Raymond James Stadium, the chants grew louder and louder.

"Big East champs! Big East champs!"

And then a different chant began: "Go Cincinnati! Go Cincinnati!"

That's because after West Virginia's 30-27 victory at South Florida Thursday night, the Mountaineers clinched a share of the Big East title and will earn the league's BCS bowl berth if Cincinnati defeats UConn on Saturday.

This may -- or may not -- be the Mountaineers' final season as Big East members, but not even the Big East's best lawyers can keep West Virginia out of representing the league in a BCS bowl if Cincinnati wins Saturday.

West Virginia senior defensive end Bruce Irvin was the final Mountaineer to walk off the field. As he approached the tunnel, a couple of WVU fans yelled from the stands: "Big East champs, Bruce. We did it baby."

It was Irvin's final regular-season game as a Mountaineer, but he said his teammates didn't even think about if this was also the Mountaineers' final Big East game.

"We only worry about what we can control," Irvin said. "The fans are going to say what they want to. At the end of the day we're in the Big East this year and that's all that matters.

"If we get to the Orange Bowl, that would be great. I've never been to Miami. This is the perfect way to go."

West Virginia is going, going gone from the Big East. When exactly? Well that depends on who hired the best lawyers -- the Big East or West Virginia.

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"Regardless of whether this is our last Big East game, the kids played hard," West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck told CBSSports.com. "The kids played hard, played well. I look at the victory as a great moment for the kids and the coaching staff. We're assuming this is the last one [in the Big East], but we're not dwelling on that."

While the Mountaineers' exact departure from the Big East to the Big 12 in 2012/2013/2014 depends on which high-priced lawyers win their lawsuits, Luck said the Mountaineers are preparing to join the Big 12 in 2012.

"We're planning on all sports spending the 2012-13 academic year in the Big 12," Luck said. "The Big 12 folks haven't given us a [deadline] date. We're 100 percent focused on competing in the Big 12 and with this season closing, have time to prepare for next year.

"Our coaches are starting to think about Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas and all the other schools we'll be facing in the Big 12 next year."

Before the Mountaineers can focus on the Big 12, they must concentrate on likely playing the ACC champion (Virginia Tech or Clemson) in the Orange Bowl. The No. 22-ranked Mountaineers (9-3) won a share of the Big East title in coach Dana Holgorsen's debut season as a head coach.

Holgorsen was originally going to be a coach in waiting this year and take over in 2012. However, that all changed when Bill Stewart was fired and Holgorsen was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach.

"You look at the body of work and this is what you have: It was a great victory," Luck said of Holgorsen's first year. "Dana and his staff deserve kudos. This is a place, as you know, that we struggle. It's always a very tough place to play. Forget about all the other circumstances, this is a great victory."

Holgorsen described his first season as a head coach as "hard" and "challenging."

"You go from coordinating where you go from worrying about 48 percent of your team and one-third of the game to 100 percent of the team and 100 percent of the game," Holgorsen said. "It's challenging and you need good assistants and loyal assistants so they can help you through things. I'm happy with the guys we got." Holgorsen said winning a Big East title was exactly how he planned his first season.

"It's one of the reasons West Virginia was appealing, what they had accomplished in the last six years," Holgorsen said. "We knew this was possible. They were picked preseason No. 1 [in the Big East] for a reason. We knew expectations were high, we had some setbacks. We kept going at it. This was our goal and we were able to overcome some adversity."

While West Virginia starts looking toward South Beach, USF starts looking toward next year.

Ironically, Thursday night's game was USF's annual "Bulls and Bowl Bash." It's an annual function in which USF athletic director Doug Woolard invites bowl reps from each of the BCS bowls and Big East bowls to one game a season.

They are wined and dined in sunny Tampa Bay and spend the afternoon playing golf, sailing or even go sky diving. There was only problem: This year's USF team didn't even get bowl eligible, ending a streak of six consecutive bowl appearances.

However, the Bulls did keep one infamous streak alive: USF dropped to 0-8 in Thursday night nationally televised contests. USF has officially bypassed Whitney as the worst all-time product on Thursday night TV history.

USF (5-7) also dropped to a surprising 1-6 in Big East home games under coach Skip Holtz. Even with a losing record in his second season with the Bulls, Holtz remains a very viable candidate for the North Carolina opening.

Holgorsen, though, has no worries about his next job. He's less than two days from starting to prepare for his first BCS bowl in his 12-year coaching career as an assistant at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State.

To earn that BCS bid, though, Cincinnati must beat UConn. Holgorsen plans to watch the game, but said he won't bother calling or texting Cincinnati coach Butch Jones with any words of encouragement. If Cincinnati loses to UConn, Louisville would get the BCS bowl berth.

"Cincinnati has plenty to play for," Holgorsen said. "They can win a share of the Big East title like we did."

As the victorious West Virginia players started heading to the bus Thursday night, one player turned toward Luck.

"Mr. Luck, I'm coming over to your house Saturday to watch the Cincinnati game."

"Come on over, baby," Luck said smiling. "I'll start cooking."

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