The 47th annual Gator Bowl will see the West Virgina Mountaineers take on the Florida State Seminoles in the iconic coach Bobby Bowden’s last game. Bowden’s historic 44-year career as a head coach reluctantly comes to a close.
The Seminoles (6-6) are in postseason play for the 28th straight year, but it was a difficult season for the affable Bowden. Florida State failed to win more than two in a row and fell for the sixth straight time to Florida, 37-10 on Nov. 28, to finish third in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Two days later, Bowden, 80, said he hadn’t decided on his future and still had career options – one of them being to remain the head coach. After meeting with university officials Dec. 1, though, Bowden said the Gator Bowl would be his last game.
Regardless of the .500 season, Bowden’s accomplishments while building a powerhouse over 34 seasons in Tallahassee are staggering. Following several near-misses in the 1980s, he won national titles with the Seminoles in 1993 and most recently in 1999, when they went unbeaten and became the first to go wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team in the AP poll. Another big achievement is a string of 14 straight seasons, ending in 2000, during which Florida State won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top five. The Seminoles were 152-19-1 in that span.
He has a 315-97-4 record with Florida State.
Florida State has long had a plan in place for Bowden’s successor, naming offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher in 2007. But first, Bowden will get a send-off in a bowl game where he’s yet to lose. The Seminoles are 4-0 under him in the Gator Bowl, including double-digit wins over West Virginia in 1982 and 2005.
The Mountaineers have won four consecutive bowls since that last loss to Florida State and two of those victories have been under coach Bill Stewart, who is among the many ardent Bowden supporters.
West Virginia (9-3) appeared to be out of the mix for a New Year’s bowl following late-season losses to South Florida and Cincinnati. However, with three-point wins over then-No. 8 Pittsburgh and Rutgers to close the regular season, the Mountaineers finished tied with the Panthers for second in the Big East behind the 12-0 Bearcats.
The Mountaineers’ best player is running back Noel Devine, who finished second in the Big East with 1,372 yards and fourth with 12 touchdowns. Jarrett Brown was third in the conference with 2,129 passing yards, but threw only 11 TDs with eight interceptions in 12 games.
Brown’s counterpart is EJ Manuel, who has started the last three games after Christian Ponder was lost for the season due to a separated shoulder. Manuel has appeared in six games, throwing for 616 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions.
His top targets are Rod Owens and Bert Reed, who tied for fifth in the conference with 58 receptions, but Owens had only three touchdowns while Reed had none. Jarmon Fortson topped the team with four TD catches. Jermaine Thomas led the Seminoles ground game with 711 yards and 7 TDs.
PICK: Florida State University Seminoles
Pittsburgh’s shocking upset of West Virginia in Morgantown two years ago was a positive end to an otherwise disappointing season. There have been few low points for the Panthers since.
Pittsburgh will try to avoid looking too far ahead when it visits West Virginia on Friday night in the 102nd meeting of the teams’ intense rivalry. Pittsburgh (9-1, 5-0 Big East) attention is focused on their annual showdown with the Mountaineers, a game often referred to as the “Backyard Brawl.”
Pitt has won the last two meetings with West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), including a 13-9 victory in Morgantown in 2007, which kept the Mountaineers from playing for the national title.
Coach Dave Wannstedt acknowledges the Panthers’ 2007 win over the Mountaineers as a turning point for his program. Pittsburgh had come into that game 4-7. In the two years since, the Panthers have gone 18-5, and they have been a consistent presence in the Top 25.
West Virginia, meanwhile, saw coach Rich Rodriguez leave two weeks after that upset defeat. The Mountaineers went 9-4 under Bill Stewart last season and have spent only two weeks in the rankings this season. This is the first time since 2003 that the teams have met with the Panthers in the Top 25 and the Mountaineers unranked.
Dion Lewis, the freshman running back leads the Big East with 129.1 rushing yards per game. Lewis needs only 38 more yards to surpass Pitt’s LeSean McCoy for the Big East’s freshman rushing mark.
Handing off the ball to Lewis is quarterback Bill Stull, has silenced doubters with his effective play this season. Stull has completed an efficient 66.3 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown 18 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Stull’s favorite targets are wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dickerson. Baldwin is obviously the deep threat, catching 40 balls for 840 yards, while Dickerson is a red zone target, with 10 of his 43 catches resulting in a touchdown.
The Mountaineers are sure to test Pitt’s run defense, as they are churning out 183.5 ypg on the ground this season. WVU is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has scored 23 of its 35 offensive touchdowns on the ground.
The speedy and elusive Noel Devine leads the run game, although the 5-8, 176- pounder has been slowed by some minor injuries of late. Still, Devine has enjoyed a standout campaign with 1,098 yards and 10 scores, and his 5.7 yard per carry average is indicative of his explosiveness.
Helping to take some of the pressure off Devine is quarterback Jarrett Brown, who has proved too be an effective runner in his own right, gaining 366 yards and five scores on the ground. Brown has had success with his arm as well, hitting on 65.1 percent of his tosses with 11 more touchdowns. Jock Sanders is clearly the favorite target of Brown, as his 62 catches are nearly double the next closest player on the roster.
Friday is West Virginia’s final home game. It’s trying to go undefeated in Morgantown for the first time since 1993.
PICK: University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Cincinnati has endured plenty of uncertainty surrounding its quarterback situation this week, but coach Brian Kelly hopes the offense continues its smooth sailing on the field regardless of who is under center.
While Zach Collaros makes his fourth straight start as the Bearcats chase the first 10-0 start in school history, injured starter Tony Pike is also expected to see action Friday night when their pursuit of a spot in the BCS title game continues against visiting West Virginia.
Each quarterback has proved he can effectively run the Bearcats’ spread, no-huddle offense, which ranks third nationally with 482.6 yards per game.
After Pike led Cincinnati to the Big East title and the Orange Bowl last season, the 6-foot-6 senior threw 15 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in six starts this year to gain some early Heisman Trophy buzz and help the Bearcats (9-0, 5-0 Big East) to six relatively comfortable victories.
But after the strong-armed Pike reinjured his previously broken non-throwing forearm against South Florida on Oct. 15, Collaros added a new dimension to Cincinnati’s offense by running for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the 34-17 win. In three starts since then, Collaros has shown he can also pass effectively, going 66 for 82 for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception.
The sophomore helped Cincinnati rack up a school-record 711 total yards in Saturday’s 47-45 win over Connecticut, after which Kelly said he was no longer committed to Pike as a starter. Collaros threw for 480 yards and a touchdown and ran for 75 yards and two scores. The prolific offense has been the primary reason why Cincinnati remains in the national championship conversation and has a chance for the best start in the program’s history. The 1951 team also began 9-0 but lost its 10th game.
The Bearcats also need to keep winning in order to defend their conference title, as they remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the Big East, but they may need to tighten their defense after the unit’s worst performance of the season.
UConn scored more points than Cincinnati’s previous three opponents combined, including 21 in the fourth quarter to narrow the deficit. The Huskies ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns. That could be a problem if West Virginia is able to use star running back Noel Devine, one of 16 players nationally who has topped 1,000 yards rushing.
Devine injured his ankle in a 17-9 win over Louisville on Saturday, forcing the Mountaineers (7-2, 3-1) to rely on defense to outlast the Cardinals. Quarterback Jarrett Brown suffered a similar injury in the game, but West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said he’s optimistic both players will play this week.
The bigger challenge for the Mountaineers, however, will likely be slowing down a Cincinnati offense which Stewart has called a “juggernaut.” A pair of opponents have already totaled at least 300 yards through the air against West Virginia, which must win this game to maintain any shot at the conference title.
The Mountaineers will have some positive history on their side. They were the last team to win at Nippert Stadium, 28-23 over then-No. 21 Cincinnati on Nov. 17, 2007, when West Virginia was ranked fifth.
The Bearcats have won 11 in a row at home, and they won 26-23 at West Virginia last Nov. 8 even though their offense was held to 260 yards – its lowest total in the last two seasons.
PICK: University of Cincinnati Bearcats
West Virginia has needed second-half comebacks to win its last two games, the Mountaineers hope to assert themselves as serious Big East title contenders in a visit to South Florida, is trying to rebound from back-to-back losses to the league’s other top teams. Mountaineers (6-1, 2-0) are trying to keep up with reigning league champion Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, both of which are more highly ranked and also unbeaten in conference play.
West Virginia will face both of those teams in November, but first it must focus on the Bulls, who helped derail the Mountaineers’ national title hopes the last time the teams met in Tampa. South Florida’s 21-13 win on Sept. 28, 2007, was West Virginia’s only road loss in an 11-2 campaign.
Coach Bill Stewart’s Mountaineers have averaged 15.0 points in their last three games against the Bulls, going 1-2. West Virginia won 13-7 at home last season despite being out gained 326-280. The Mountaineers have trailed Marshall 7-3 before winning 24-7 two weeks ago, and they were behind Connecticut on Saturday before Noel Devine’s 56-yard touchdown run with 2:10 to play gave them a 28-24 win. The game was an emotional one as UConn played for the first time following the death of cornerback Jasper Howard, who was stabbed in an on-campus incident the previous weekend.
West Virginia’s conference-best running game has keyed the Mountaineers’ current four-game winning streak, as Devine is averaging 148.0 yards per game in that stretch. Devine is seventh nationally in total rushing, had 171 of his 178 yards in the second half against UConn.
Quarterback Jarrett Brown was unspectacular against the Huskies as he returned from a mild concussion, and the Mountaineers may try to rely on Devine again. South Florida (5-2, 1-2) ranks first in the Big East defending the pass but seventh against the run, allowing 132.4 yards per game.
After giving up 189 rushing yards to Cincinnati in a 34-17 home loss Oct. 15, the Bulls allowed 214 to Pitt en route to a 41-14 road defeat Saturday as All-American defensive end George Selvie had just one tackle.The Bulls also struggled offensively against the Panthers, as redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels went 4 for 8 for 54 yards and two interceptions.
The Bulls are 21-6 at home since the start of 2005 and they could provide a strong test for West Virginia, which is just 1-1 on the road. The Mountaineers won at Syracuse but lost 41-30 at Auburn on Sept. 19.
PICK: University of South Florida Bulls
Colorado Buffaloes head coach Dan Hawkins in under fire over the recent 1-2 start by the program. Hawkins proclaimed during the summer that his Buffaloes would win 10 games this season and after an opening game loss to instate rival Colorado St Rams 23-17 and an embarrassing 54-38 loss to Toledo Rockets
The Rockets gained 319 yards through the air and 305 on the ground against the team from the Big 12 and the hopes for a 10 win season were dashed right out of the gate for Hawkins.
Colorado Buffaloes junior starting quarterback Cody Hawkins is only completing 52% of his passes on the season for 755 yards five touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He has been sacked eight times this season. Despite a big offensive line the Buffaloes are only averaging 3.1 yards per carry from the ground. Running back Rodney Stewart is the leading ball carrier for the Buffaloes with 175 yards and on 38 rushing attempts with two rushing touchdowns.
West Virginia last year’s 17-14 overtime loss in Boulder was the second of a terrible twosome for the Mountaineers, who were drilled at East Carolina the week before. This year brings the opportunity for redemption, and they already got revenge on East Carolina earlier this season. The payback opportunity arrives when Colorado comes to Morgantown and West Virginia is looking to rebound off a turnover filled 41-30 loss to the Auburn Tigers.
Head coach Bill Stewart’s team sits at 2-1 on the season with a notable 35-20 victory at home to East Carolina. West Virginia senior quarterback Jarrett Brown is hitting on 68% of his passes on the season for 798 yards five touchdowns and an alarming 5 interceptions on the season, the Tigers picked him off 4 times in his last game.
The Mountaineers are led on the ground by running back Noel Devine who brings 6.3 yards per carry average on 51 rushing attempts to the Colorado game. West Virginia’s defense is very good against the run this season limiting teams to just 83 yards per game on the ground. In their loss to Auburn the team accumulated over 500 yards of total offense and was 10 of 15 in third down conversions.
The Buffaloes and the Mountaineers share quality running games however they share equally terrible quarterbacks that allow defenses to stack the box cause they don’t fear the passing attack of either team.
PICK: West Virginia University Mountaineers