Orange Bowl

WVU in Select Company

 
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Quarterback Geno Smith hoists the Discover Orange Bowl Trophy after his record setting performance.
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John Antonik, MSNsportsNET.com

So, West Virginia has won three different BCS bowl games in the last six years - with three different coaches no less.

What to make of this?

Well, first of all, it puts the Mountaineers in a pretty select group of college football programs that have won three or more of these since the system was created in 1998 – eight programs to be exact.

There’s Ohio State, USC, Florida, LSU, Texas, Miami and Oklahoma that have won at least three BCS bowl games in the last 14 years. And now, um, catch your breath here, West Virginia.

That’s right, good old West Virginia, tucked up in the mountains between Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland and Virginia - in case there are any well-paid college football announcers or ESPN promo writers out there still confused about where the school is located - a program that’s been around for 119 years and just seems to keep winning football games without a whole lot of chest thumping.

There are only 14 programs that have more than 700 victories in the entire history of major college football, and did you realize that West Virginia is one of them?

Folks, these are the biggest of the big - schools such as Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Tennessee, USC, Georgia, LSU and Auburn. We hear about them all the time – the schools every college football fan wants their program to be like.

And guess what, right there with them is West Virginia.

In fact, the next school to reach 700 victories - either Syracuse, Georgia Tech or possibly Virginia Tech - is still going to need about four more years to get there if they don’t average 10 wins per season over the next three.

Most impressive, perhaps, is not West Virginia’s recent run over the last seven years, averaging 10 wins per season and finishing in the national rankings in six out of those seven years; the school’s BCS bowl wins or all those New Year’s Day bowl appearances.

No, what is truly amazing is how successful this program has been throughout its history.

Did you realize that with the exception of two down periods in the late 1970s, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s, West Virginia has never experienced any long bouts of losing? Just four losing seasons in the late 1970s and four losing campaigns at the end of the 50s and the start of the 60s, that’s it.

Every single decade going all the way back to the 1890s has been a winning one. That's the 1890s.

That is absolutely phenomenal when you think about it.

Since 1980 when Don Nehlen took over the Mountaineer program, West Virginia has had just five losing campaigns in the last 32 years.

Why?

How can a school in a state with less than two million people that produces just one or two Division-I prospects a year (in a good year) be so successful?

Well, it’s because the people here care deeply about the program. How else can you explain it? How can three different coaches – Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen – win three different BCS bowl games in a span of six years at the same place?

LSU, the only other college football program with an unblemished BCS bowl mark among schools with three or more appearances, has done it with two – Nick Saban and Les Miles. That’s LSU, surrounded by all those great football players in the powerful Southeastern Conference with all that tradition.

But how can this be at West Virginia?

Again, there is only one answer - it’s because West Virginians care.

They spend their hard-earned money to come to the games and support the team. They pack up their cars, their vans and their RVs and they travel to far-off places to cheer on their Mountaineers. They call in to radio shows and write emails whenever they feel their team has been wronged or slighted.

For West Virginians, Mountaineer football is a love affair that lasts a lifetime.

Never was that more apparent than when the team buses reached I-79’s West Virginia University exit during its return from the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl, an incomprehensible, unimaginable, unbelievable 70-33 demolition of Clemson. The records from that game are too numerous to recite, although the stories about it will be recited around here forever.

As the six charters transporting the team snaked their way toward Milan Puskar Stadium behind a police escort, motorists stopped their cars to honk their horns. Some rolled down their windows to give a thumbs-up or to applaud their performance; others shouted words of encouragement. Construction workers stopped what they were doing to acknowledge the players, one or two of them even taking off their hard hats in appreciation of a job well done.

Children in school buses pulled their windows down and stuck their heads out to get a closer look at their passing heroes. You could see sprinkled among them some blue Tavon Austin and Geno Smith jerseys. I imagine many of those kids were still a little sleepy after begging their parents to let them to stay up well past midnight to watch Rece Davis hand the Orange Bowl championship trophy over to Dana Holgorsen.

Many of the local businesses already had their signs up with messages of congratulations, wisely mixing praise with commerce.

In most places when traffic is stopped it’s a nuisance. On Thursday afternoon going through Morgantown it was a cause for celebration.

It was certainly a sight to behold.

This only happens in places where the people care deeply about their program – which also happens to be some of the best places in all of college football.

 

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