All week, the headlines about the Big East have surrounded the future implosion of the league. How would it survive? Where would it turn? Will more teams leave?
So let’s just say the game between No. 2 LSU and No. 16 West Virginia on Saturday night comes at the right time for a league in desperate need to flip the script. Not only is the game hugely important for the revamped Mountaineers, it is more so for the Big East.
This is a league in need of something positive to happen. Putting the focus back on the field is a good first step. An upset over one of the best teams in the nation -- well, that would be a welcome change.
“It's a great opportunity for us,” West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin said. “We get to show the world just because we're in the Big East doesn't mean we can't play with an SEC team. Hopefully we can come together and get a win.”
That the Big East had a season to forget in 2010 only adds to the need for an upset here. Last season, the Big East went 0-6 against Top 25 teams in nonconference play. If you go back to the start of 2005, the Big East is 7-24 against Top 25 nonconference opponents.
If you narrow that down to teams in the top 10, the Big East is 2-10. Both those wins belong to the Mountaineers: 48-28 over No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and 38-35 over No. 8 Georgia in the 2005 Sugar Bowl.
This actually is the Big East's biggest home nonconference game since No. 1 Ohio State visited Cincinnati on Sept. 16, 2006. The Buckeyes won that game 37-7. The last time West Virginia hosted a team ranked in the top two was in 2002, when No. 1 Miami came to town. That was a league game.
So you can see the stakes are high. But coach Dana Holgorsen has tried to undersell how big a win would be in this game.
“It’s every bit as big as the last game was and it's every bit as big as the next game will be,” he said. “That's one thing we've tried to preach to our guys. It’s more about us than who we play. Our job is to prepare to win a game and learn how to prepare to play in a game regardless.”
Still, anytime "College GameDay" arrives on campus, you know your game is a big deal. West Virginia fans have been waiting for this moment for years, and student ticket demand far exceeds tickets available. Fans already are putting up tents at the site and camping out. The city has even ordered couches off porches in anticipation of this game.
What may give West Virginia some confidence going into this one is the way it played last year against the Tigers in Baton Rouge. After LSU jumped out to a 17-0 lead, West Virginia cut it to 17-14 in the third quarter but could not get any closer. It was a day of missed opportunities on special teams. The Mountaineers allowed Patrick Peterson to return a punt 60 yards for a touchdown, had one field goal blocked and missed a 48-yard attempt.
“Last year when we went down there, we almost came out with a win. We just had a couple bad mistakes,” Austin said. “They beat us, but they're just like any other team.”
West Virginia needs to view LSU that way, but the national view is much different. The SEC is the league all others are compared to because of its recent run of success. Let’s face it: The Big East does not get many opportunities against SEC opponents.
This year, the Big East is 1-1 against the SEC. Since 2005, the Big East is 2-3 against Top 25 SEC teams -- two of those losses were to Florida.
“This is a big game,” offensive lineman Don Barclay said. “The fact that it’s a night game makes it extra exciting and puts more hype into the game. Night games here are special. We know we have a great opportunity coming. We’re going to give them our best shot and they’re going to give us their best shot.”