Well, the end of college football season has arrived.
For the West Virginia Mountaineers and the North Carolina State Wolfpack, the road ends at the Champ Sports Bowl in Orlando. While WVU attempts to dispatch the ‘Pack and reach the 10-win plateau for the first time in three seasons, few will remember what happened on the field this season. For the Mountaineers, this season's real drama happened off of the gridiron as the Greek chorus calling for Bill Stewart's head reached its fever pitch, with Stew and crew ousted in favor an up-and-coming young assistant coach, Dana Holgerson. Despite all the off-field drama, this season's on-field accomplishments included burgeoning offensive talent in Geno Smith and Tavon Austin and one of the greatest defensive units in the school's history. So what do we have to look forward to tomorrow night in Orlando?
- A curtain call for Noel Devine. Devine arrived in Morgantown as the most heralded recruit in school history. Over his four-year career he dazzled the Mountaineer faithful with his stop-on-a-dime moves and his ability to accelerate away from defenders. Devine was expected to be the bell ringer for this year's Mountaineers but has been hampered with a toe injury sustained during the team's early season trip to Baton Rouge. The remainder of the season found number seven struggling to regain his quick first step and generally being an ineffective runner. Almost a month since he's seen the field, I expect Devine to regain his old form against NC State. I think we can count on Bill Stewart to lean hard on his senior runner and I expect one more dash into the highlight reels for Devine.
- What's Bill Stewart's disposition? Typically, it's sunny with a chance of hyperbole. Since the announcement that Stewart is being forced out at the end of next season in favor of Dana Holgerson, the old ball coach has been more combative than usual. Will this display of anger spill onto the football field in the form of motivation for his troops? It's hard to say. One of the many irrational things that upset Mountaineer fans was that Stewart didn't seem as angry on the sidelines as they would have liked. Maybe the Champs Sports Bowl will find the "Grandpa Billy" personality shelved in favor of fire and brimstone. Then again, that seems unlikely.
- The Mountaineer defense makes its last stand. Jeff Casteel is the only thing about this season's team that will continue into the future. Thank goodness for that! Casteel's defensive unit was one of the best in the country this season, holding opponents under 20 points per game, and unleashing a pass rush never before seen in Morgantown. Unfortunately, most of the key contributors to this defense, including JT Thomas, Anthony Leonard, Chris Nield and Brandon Hogan will be gone next season. If you've enjoyed watching opposing players get swallowed in a blue and gold wave of defense, enjoy it. It may may not be seen around these parts for a while.
- Three Mountaineers are suspended for academic reasons. Defensive back Eain Smith, defensive lineman Josh Taylor, and starting center Joe Madsen will not play due to failing to make grades during the fall semester. The biggest blow will be Madsen, the starting center on an offensive line that has underachieved all season long. None of these losses is a knockout blow to West Virginia, but in all three cases they're players who would've seen the field otherwise. Given the circumstances of the last few weeks, this should only be a mild distraction.
- What's the fan presence like? Simply put, Mountaineer Nation travels well to Bowls. It's always given WVU an unofficial tie-breaker against many other schools when being considered for bowl games. This year, however, not so much. Whether or not this is related to the struggling economy, midweek game or high expectations, blue and gold faithful seem to be staying home more than usual.Many view this as one final statement about how much they hate Bill Stewart and how much offense they took at the direction of the football program. If that's the case though, shouldn't they turn out in droves to see him off?
All in all, with a win against the Wolfpack the 2010 West Virginia Mountaineers will have turned in, by all reasonable standards, a successful season. Too bad it won't be remembered that way.
SBNation Pittsburgh Fearless Forecast: WVU 28, NCSU 20