West Virginia has notched some of the biggest wins for the Big East ever since the league took its current shape in 2005. BCS bowl triumphs over Georgia and Oklahoma gave the conference milestones to brag about.
In the last two years, though, the Mountaineers have curiously lacked any marquee victories. The Meineke Car Care Bowl win against North Carolina was nice but not chest-thumpingly brilliant. In the last two regular seasons, West Virginia has lost twice to Cincinnati, gotten beat at Pitt and let this year's game at Auburn slip away.
Senior linebacker Reed Williams said the best victory he could recall in the past two years was the one at home against Auburn last season. But even that came over a Tigers team that finished 5-7.
"We've lacked that signature win," Williams said. "As seniors, we don't want our signature year to be outlined by defeat and the inability to win that big game."
That's one of several reasons why Friday's renewal of the Backyard Brawl looms as important to the Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2 Big East). They've been eliminated from the conference race, but beating No. 9 Pitt would provide a highlight to the season.
There are bowl implications at stake as well. If West Virginia wins out and Pitt also loses to Cincinnati on Dec. 5, the Mountaineers could lay claim to a spot in the Gator Bowl.
"We could still be second in the Big East, and that would be great because the conference has been real tough this year," center Eric Jobe said. "There's a lot to play for."
Neither team ever needs much motivation in this rivalry, which is the oldest and best in the Big East. The two schools are less than 80 miles away from each other, and many of the players come from the same recruiting areas.
"It’s almost like playing your brother -- you want to go out there and whip him bad," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said.
Lately, Pitt has held the whip. The Panthers upset the Mountaineers 13-9 in Morgantown two years ago in the regular-season finale, knocking WVU out of a BCS title game appearance. Last year at Heinz Field, Pitt took home a bruising 19-15 victory that extinguished any conference title hopes for the Mountaineers.
"That loss two years ago is definitely on everyone's mind," Jobe said. "We want to get back to winning against them. Maybe this year, we can play the spoiler."
They can't spoil Pitt's BCS hopes, because those ride solely on the Cincinnati outcome. But West Virginia could put a dent in its rival's season by knocking it out of the Top 10 and perhaps down to a lesser bowl.
This is about more than Pitt, though. The Mountaineers would like to return to their old ways, which means recording big wins.
"Even though things didn't go as planned for us in the Big East, I think we're still a great football team," Williams said. "We just haven't played that game where we've put everything together yet. When we do, I think we'll play to a tee and be a great football team."