West Virginia Aims to Defend Honor of Big East

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits, The Times-Union

West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez will motivate his players on two fronts as they begin preparation for the 60th Gator Bowl.

"We want to prove that the Big East schools still play pretty good football," he said Monday, after he and athletic director Ed Pastilong formally accepted an invitation from Gator Bowl chairman Bob Smith to make a second consecutive appearance in the New Year's Day game (12:30 p.m., NBC). "We also want to play a lot better than we did last year [when the Mountaineers lost to Maryland 41-7]."

West Virginia (8-3) will probably play Florida State (8-3), which would be only the second meeting between the two schools. Their first encounter was in the 1982 Gator Bowl, when Greg Allen scored three touchdowns to lead the Seminoles to a 31-12 victory.

Smith said the selection committee wasn't hesitant to bring the Mountaineers back to another Gator Bowl. It could have invited Boston College (8-3), which beat West Virginia 17 days ago.

"We looked at his very closely, and West Virginia has a history of bringing fans to our game," he said, referring to three sellouts in the four Gator Bowls the school has played. "Having West Virginia here back-to-back played out more favorable than other scenarios."

An official invitation could not be extended to FSU until today, following a Bowl Championship Series conference call where the Seminoles are likely to be released from consideration for one of the two at-large BCS bowl bids.

"I think it will be a safe assumption they'll be cut loose," said Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda. Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg is in the first year of a two-year term as the BCS coordinator.

Rodriguez said his first priority in getting the Mountaineers ready for the Gator Bowl is make preparations to ensure a better showing. West Virginia lost for the fourth time in as many Gator Bowl appearances, falling behind 24-0 by halftime.

He said he won't make very many changes in his pre-bowl practices, either on campus or in Jacksonville.

"We were disappointed, because we had great practices before we left and then in Jacksonville," he said. "We were in shock after the game, because I thought we were ready to play. We'll make some changes, but we don't think there's a lot different we can do, other than to play better."

Rodriguez said he consulted other coaches who won bowl games last year and discovered that they didn't prepare much differently than he and his staff did.

"We had similar [practice] schedules," he said. "We know how poorly we played and we have to compete better."

Rodriguez also said he and his team are weary of what he said was "Big East-bashing" in the media. …