Back during the dog days of preseason, when Oklahoma and West Virginia were picked to finish 1-2 in the Big 12, this week’s game in Morgantown figured to decide the conference champion.
The stakes are no longer so high, with the Sooners unlikely to catch top-ranked Kansas State in the league standings and WVU desperately trying to halt an epic collapse.
“We’re still motivated,” said Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team is coming off its fourth straight loss, 55-34 at Oklahoma State. Holgorsen insisted his team had an energetic week of preparation leading up to the OSU loss and he expects the same intensity this week. “It had better be,” he said, “because we’ve got a good top-10 team coming to Morgantown.”
Though West Virginia (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) has dropped two consecutive home games, Holgorsen said fans are excited to see whether the Mountaineers can deliver a turnaround against the tradition-rich Sooners (7-2, 5-1), ranked No. 12 in this week’s BCS standings. The game is slated for a 7 p.m. Eastern kickoff on Fox.
“I think people are pretty excited about it — they’ve had it circled a while because Oklahoma is such a storied program over he past 100 years,” he said. “I think a lot of people are going to want to come out and watch the game.”
The Sooners, whose losses have come against K-State and Notre Dame, still hold BCS bowl aspirations. The Mountaineers appear slotted for a lower-tier postseason game such as the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium or the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston — provided they can find a sixth win against Oklahoma, Iowa State or Kansas.
“You start to lean on some of your seniors at this point to try to finish the year strong,” Holgorsen said. “We’re still fighting for the same thing that you were a week ago, that we were a couple weeks ago, which is too get better each week, try to win the game and try to improve your bowl status and figure out why we play this game that we love.
“When you start getting a couple losses on top of each other then that challenge becomes a little bit greater.”
Near the end of Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference, Holgorsen was asked if he had reached out to longtime comrade Mike Leach with words of encouragement during Washington State’s 2-8 season.
“I’m looking for some words of encourage from him for what I’m going through,” Holgorsen joked. “It’s a little bit more about me than him here in Morgantown.”
Big 12 Reprimands Tuberville
The video of Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville yanking the headset and cap off graduate assistant Kevin Oliver nearly overshadowed Saturday’s overtime win against Kansas. On Monday, Tuberville did his part with an authentic-sounding apology, and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby did his by issuing a public reprimand.
“I guess I’d be less than forthright if I didn’t acknowledge we’ll be keeping a careful eye on it going forward,” said Bowlsby. The commissioner described the incident as “unsportsmanlike” but said no further discipline is forthcoming.
Tuberville’s tone Monday was more remorseful than his postgame characterization of the incident Saturday, when the coach said he simply was trying to grab Oliver’s shoulder to get the assistant off the field.
“After watching the film when I got home, it was obvious what a lot of people were upset about, and it upset me, too,” Tuberville said during his weekly press conference. “You don’t do things like that. It was obvious I reached up and grabbed his headset and pulled on it.
“In the heat of the battle, some things happen sometimes that you’d like to take back. I can’t ever remember anything like that happening to me.”
The play that rankled Tuberville involved an illegal formation penalty on fourth-and-2, the result of a punt-team player still being on the field after Texas Tech had sent on the offense to go for it. Oliver helps coach the Red Raiders’ special teams.
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported an interesting tidbit on Monday, noting that in preparation for the Kansas game, “Tech had labeled an offensive play or package ‘Jayhawk’ and also named a fake-punt call ‘Jayhawk.’” So when the Red Raiders opted to go for it on fourth down near midfield, “Jayhawk” was called out on the sideline and special-teams players became confused.
Austin, Bailey in Biletnikoff Running
West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were among the 10 semifinalists for the 2012 Biletnikoff Award announced Monday.
Austin leads the nation with 10.67 catches per game, while Bailey is fifth (8.33) Bailey ranks third in receiving yards per game at 117.22 and Austin is 10th (107.56) in that category.
The remaining semifinalists:
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Austin Franklin, New Mexico State
Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
Austin Hill, Arizona
Deandre Hopkins, Clemson
Marqise Lee, Southern California
Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Terrance Williams, Baylor