West Virginia missed out on a BCS bowl when Connecticut defeated South Florida on a late 52-yard field goal, but you could not sense any disappointment in Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart's voice Sunday night after his team learned about its Champs Sports Bowl bid against NC State.
"I see no disappointment whatsoever," Stewart said. "This is a great challenge. I've already received some calls from players. They are excited. We are Big East champs. We are very proud of our 9-3 record. We are very much proud of the resolve of our seniors and this football team have shown the last four weeks, being 1-2 at one time, one point, and to come out and play like we have this last month. It's been a real characteristic to the young men here at West Virginia and our program."
West Virginia has rolled to a 9-3 overall record and 5-2 mark in the Big East but lost the tiebreaker to Connecticut when the Huskies knocked off the Mountaineers 16-13 in Connecticut Oct. 29. That would be the last loss of the year for WVU. They finished the year with four straight victories, including three by margins of at least three touchdowns.
"I think the last month has shown people not only West Virginia but across the entire country that West Virginia is still a team to be reckoned with," Stweart said. "We are I think 21st and 22nd in the polls, and I'm glad about that.
"To win four games against the four opponents we just played has been very, very good. To come out of Big East play with a 5-2 ledger, being champs, is an outstanding tribute to our seniors, our entire team, most importantly to our staff. They showed great resolve. It's the Mountaineer way. That's what we are and who we are. It's a work ethic."
Stewart does have a little familiarity with NC State. He considers himself to be friends with Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien.
"Tom and I go way back before that when he was at the Naval Academy and I was at William & Mary back in 81, 82 and 83," Stewart noted. "When he was at the University of Virginia, I happened to be at the University of North Carolina, and we had some real battles there. Tom and I have been friends for many, many years. I greatly respect him. He's a tremendous character gentleman. He's a heck of a football coach, and a guy I consider a friend."
Stewart also recruited the state of Virginia for West Virginia when he was an assistant, and he knew about Wolfpack star junior quarterback Russell Wilson long before Wilson became a standout performer for State.
"I know about him because I was down there when he was being recruited," Stewart said, adding that he also knows the family of NC State redshirt sophomore backup quarterback Mike Glennon well. "Our assistant head coach, safeties coach Steve Dunlap here on our staff now recruited Russell Wilson for NC State.
"I know [Wilson]'s a whale of a player. He's a great competitor. This guy's got baseball skills. He has tremendous leadership skills. I got to see him play against Cincinnati because that was in our films, so I got to see him play there. I just know what he can do, the record he has. His stats are phenomenal. He's a very much a top-flight, efficient passer."
The Champs Sports Bowl may not be the Fiesta Bowl, but it's still a trip to Orlando, Fla., in late December when much of the college football world is sitting at home watching. Stewart has not lost sight of that fact.
"This is a big bowl," Stewart said. "I know there is one on another time that night, 10ish or so, so we are going to be the only show on town so to speak, we are going to be America's game on Dec. 28. What more can you ask for national coverage such as this and play such a great ACC power like NC State?"