By Cam Huffman
West Virginia University will try to put its frustrations in the past, and rebound from a two-game losing streak, today when it takes the field for the first time since dropping a 55-14 decision at home against Kansas State on Oct. 20.
Ranked No. 21 in the latest BCS standings, the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) will take on fellow conference newcomer TCU (5-3, 2-3 Big 12), which is also trying to end a skid that has seen the Horned Frogs drop two games in a row and three of the last four.
WANT TO GO?
Limited tickets for today’s 3:05 p.m. kickoff are still available. To order, call 1-800-WVU-GAME.
WANT TO WATCH?
The game will be aired live on FOX television, with coverage beginning at 3 p.m.
The two new conference mates have met only once before, in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. WVU won that game 31-14 behind the play of quarterback Kevin White, who threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns. White will be an honorary captain at today’s game.
WHAT THIS MEANS
The winner of today’s game will become bowl eligible. That may seem trivial this early in the season, but, after today, TCU has games left with BCS No. 2 Kansas State, No. 23 Texas and No. 12 Oklahoma. WVU’s path is a little less rocky with No. 24 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Oklahoma and unranked Iowa State and Kansas left. But in a league where every victory is difficult to obtain, clinching the postseason spot while it’s available will be critical.
The momentum that will go to the winner will also be huge. The loser will be facing a three-game losing streak and looking up at most of the rest of the conference, and that’s a deep hole from which to climb.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Trevone Boykin, QB — The freshman took over when the regular starter, Casey Pachall, was arrested for driving while intoxicated and eventually entered a rehabilitation program and was dismissed from the team. Boykin has made some rookie mistakes at times, tossing six interceptions in four games, but he’s also a dynamic dual-threat talent who is throwing for 262 yards per contest.
Jason Verrett, DB — The junior leads the league in passes defended with nine breakups and a pair of interceptions in the Horned Frogs’ five Big 12 games.
Shawne Alston, RB — The Mountaineers’ powerful senior ball carrier has missed five straight games with a thigh bruise, but he almost played against Kansas State and with two weeks to improve since then, he should be ready to go. WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen readily admits that his team is better with Alston on the field, and he’s likely to see the ball a lot, once he shakes off the rust.
Geno Smith, QB — After two subpar games, Smith, the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy after WVU’s 5-0 start, has been knocked out of the discussion of college football’s best players. But with the Mountaineers’ week off last Saturday, Smith has had two weeks to think about his mistakes and get back to basics. The senior has still thrown for 2,417 yards, while tossing 26 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and could be poised for a big afternoon.
KEYS TO THE GAME
This game may not be about X’s and O’s as much as the mental state of the two teams.
With that in mind, the first 15 minutes will be critically important. The team that catches a couple of breaks and builds an early lead will suddenly have some confidence and forget its struggles, while the team that falls behind will be fighting off the thoughts of “here we go again.”
Based on what’s on paper, both teams should be able to throw the football when needed. But the team that can also run it will likely be the one that picks up a much-needed win.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH