The 2010 football season was a turbulent one for the West Virginia Mountaineers and, in the end, their reward is a trip to Orlando to face the North Carolina Wolfpack in the Champs Sports Bowl. West Virginia finishes the season with a share of the conference title, but misses a trip back to the BCS because of a 16-13 overtime loss at UConn on Halloween weekend. While the Champs Sports Bowl is the best non-BCS bowl a Big East team can go to, the 2010 season will go into the books for most Mountaineer fans as a season of near-misses.
Three one possession losses, each which could have been avoided in a single play, ultimately weigh down one of the most talented Mountaineer teams in recent memory. The defense finishes the season ranked second in the country and kept the Mountaineers in games all season while the offense sputtered. While quarterback Geno Smith had a break out season, throwing for 23 touchdowns while only giving up seven interceptions, the rest of the offense never found its groove.
Noel Devine was hurt after a late hit in Baton Rouge, and was never the same. At the end of the day, the entire season came down to Ryan Clarke's goal line fumble in overtime in Hartford. If he'd found paydirt, we would be talking about an Orange Bowl trip for the Mountaineers.
But it wasn't to be. Now coach Bill Stewart and his embattled coaching staff set their sights on the Wolfpack, the third-place team from the ACC. The Mountaineers owe a debt to the Sun Bowl, who opted to select Notre Dame and a "Catholics vs. Convicts" matchup with the Miami Hurricanes and taking the Irish out of the running for the Champs Sports Bowl. What this game represents most for Stew and Crew is a chance to reach the 10-win plateau, a sizable accomplishment for any college coach. Stewart will need all the ammunition he can gather to fend off the critics in the offseason, and a dominant win against NC State will go a long way towards that.