By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It is here again. The college football regular season is winding down and 70 of 124 teams are eyeing a place in one of 35 bowl games that will begin on Dec. 15 and end with the national championship game on Jan. 7.
Who would have thought that of the 57 schools that have qualified for bowls at this point in the season, Duke, Vanderbilt and first-year BCS program Texas-San Antonio would be among them, but West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Marshall and Virginia — along with Tennessee and Iowa — are among the 33 teams still trying to reach that point.
Of those clubs, two are currently 5-4 and need one more win, and one of those is West Virginia, which was 5-0, but faces its first five-game losing skid since 1986 with a tall task slated for Saturday with Oklahoma.
The other teams vying for a postseason berth are 5-5 (11), 4-6 (17), 4-5 (1) and even 3-6 (2). Get to six wins and they’re eligible to keep playing, and that is a big deal. Not necessarily because schools want to be reigning champions of the BBVA Compass, Heart of Texas or Kraft Fight Hunger bowls, but all those extra practices can help for the 2013 season.
Just ask any high school coach in the area, they’ll tell you how important those practices in the postseason are in helping in building for the future.
At the start of the season it appeared that at least three of the four Division I college football teams in the Daily Telegraph coverage area would be bowl bound without worry. Marshall was the exception, at least according to my predictions, but now all four schools have work to do.
It starts tonight when Virginia (4-6) plays North Carolina. The Tar Heels could end the Cavaliers’ bowl hopes, much like theirs ended before the season thanks to NCAA sanctions.
That will be followed on Saturday when Virginia Tech (4-6) travels to Boston College, which is one of 33 teams to have already been eliminated, either by NCAA sanctions — North Carolina, Ohio State, Penn State — or having no chance to finish with a .500 record.
Both the Cavaliers and Hokies must win this week and then beat each other to qualify for a bowl. The winner is in, the loser would be out. Win or lose against the ‘Heels, the Cavaliers would like nothing better to end eight seasons of despair against Virginia Tech and keep the Hokies in Blacksburg in December for the first time since 1993.
Finally, the Commonwealth Cup will matter, but not for the reasons anyone would have expected. Both were expected to challenge for the ACC Coastal Division crown. The representative from the Coastal will now either be Miami, Georgia Tech or possibly even Duke.
Think Florida State is kicking themselves over that loss to N.C. State? Beat Maryland on Saturday and they’re bound for Charlotte, possibly against Miami. Wonder how many fans will be disguised as empty seats in that one?
West Virginia was 5-0 and ranked fifth in the nation at one point this season, and Geno Smith was everyone’s Heisman Trophy favorite. Four losses later — and a very real possibility of a fifth on the way — and the Mountaineers would need to win at Iowa State or against Kansas to secure that sixth win.
That isn’t as easy as it might sound. It was Iowa State’s upset of Oklahoma State on their home field that paved the way for Alabama to play and win the national title last season. Kansas might seem like a gimme, but the Jayhawks have been close during its nine-game losing skid, including an overtime loss to Texas Tech and a four-point defeat to Texas.
Now that the season has turned into a downward spiral for the Mountaineers, the critics of the move to the Big 12 are looking pretty smart, but this was a move that had to be made for the long-term future of the program.
The results are painful now, but don’t forget that the Big East continues to be largely irrelevant in the college football world. Louisville was undefeated before last week’s loss to Syracuse and wasn’t even close to being on the national championship radar.
The same could have happened to the Mountaineers. This was the right move. It will just take some time for it to show on the bottom line. It all starts with recruiting the athletes that can compete in the Big 12.
Marshall is also in its usual position of needing to win down the stretch to secure a bowl berth. Few teams have been as up and down at the Thundering Herd, which is a sign of a young them, which they are.
The task ahead will be difficult, with a win needed on Saturday at home against Houston, and then a having to survive the following week at East Carolina, which trails only Central Florida in the C-USA East Division.
As for the biggest games of all, I can always expect an email or two after Alabama loses a football game, and it happened again this week. That must be why I don’t get many emails, it doesn’t happen often.
Just remember that Nick Saban has won three national titles — two at Alabama and one at LSU — and two of those teams had a loss on the schedule.
It’s not over yet.
All three BCS leading teams have potential for defeat, especially No. 2 Oregon (10-0), which still must play No. 13 Stanford, No. 16 Oregon State and No. 18 USC or much-improved No. 17 UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.
No. 1 Kansas State still travels to Baylor and hosts No. 15 Texas, while No. 3 Notre Dame will welcome Wake Forest and then visit No. 18 Southern California.
Any of those teams could go down, and that would leave SEC back in their usual spot, with either Alabama or Georgia playing for a national title. If it doesn’t happen, an SEC title and a Sugar Bowl bid isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Ohio State is the team that must be sick. The Buckeyes chose to attend the Gator Bowl last season and lose to Florida. If they had taken a bowl ban then and not this year, the 10-0 Buckeyes would probably be sitting on top of the BCS standings right now.
Those tattoos were certainly costly to the Buckeyes.
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org