Season review: West Virginia

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

An eight-win season followed by a decent bowl game would be celebrated at many schools. But not at West Virginia.

The Mountaineers expected a lot more, especially after winning BCS games two of the past three years and bringing back quarterback Pat White for his senior campaign. This was an upside-down season in Morgantown in many ways. The defense, which was predicted to struggle after replacing eight starters from 2007, was in fact the strength of the team. The offense, which had terrorized Big East opponents for three years, fizzled.

You can blame the loss of Owen Schmitt and Steve Slaton and the lack of competent power backs to take their place. You can blame first-year head coach Bill Stewart or first-year offensive coordinator for tinkering with the successful formula and adding more of a passing attack. Or you can blame the team's maddening inability to score in the first half of games.

Whatever. In the end, West Virginia simply never put together a complete game, and it had to learn how to win ugly at times.

Two of the three losses came in overtime, while another was by four points. In two of the wins, the Mountaineers scored a total of 30 points. It was a weird year, all right. Time will tell if 8-4 was an aberration or is more like the new reality.

Offensive MVP -- Pat White, QB
The most valuable player in the Big East over the last four years was asked to do different things this season, and he responded with 18 touchdown passes in 11 games. He was typically brilliant running the ball, compiling 919 yards and eight touchdowns with fewer opportunities to scoot.

Defensive MVP -- Mortty Ivy, LB
The Mountaineers needed someone to fill Reed Williams' leadership role after the senior shut his season down with shoulder problems. Ivy rose to the challenge, pacing the team with 86 tackles and adding three interceptions for a defense that was one of the best in the Big East.

Turning point
The season was more about starts and stops than turning points for West Virginia, but the Nov. 8 Cincinnati game was the most decisive result. After a marvelous comeback in the final 71 seconds to send the game into overtime, the Mountaineers once again got stopped on a short-yardage situation and had to kick a field goal on the first possession of extra time. Cincinnati then won it with a touchdown, effectively ending the Mountaineers' quest to win a second straight Big East title.

What's next
It's not a BCS or New Year's Day game, but the Dec. 27 Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina should provide a strong challenge in front of a big crowd. Beyond that lies an interesting offseason in Morgantown, as West Virginia prepares for its first season without White in four years and Stewart continues to shape the future of the program.