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Holgorsen keeping focus on USF

MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen spent most of last week trying to convince himself and his West Virginia players there was no reason to worry about anything except Friday night's Backyard Brawl with Pitt.

The good news for the Mountaineers now is that Holgorsen will have to deal with the same issue again this week, at least to a point.

Friday night's 21-20 win over Pitt, combined with Cincinnati's 30-13 victory over Syracuse on Saturday, kept West Virginia's hopes for a Big East championship and a BCS bowl berth alive. In order to claim a share of the former, the Mountaineers need a win Thursday night in their season finale at South Florida. To also secure the latter, WVU needs a win over USF and a Cincinnati victory at home two days later against Connecticut.

In other words, welcome to one more week of controlling what can be controlled and trying to dismiss anything else. That's exactly what Holgorsen and his team had to do all last week. But even then, it was impossible on Friday morning for the Mountaineers not to be rooting for Louisville to lose to South Florida. That would have handed WVU control of its BCS bowl destiny, but USF couldn't pull it off, losing 34-24.

"We didn't talk about it. We haven't talked about it all week,'' Holgorsen said. "There was nothing we could do to help South Florida beat Louisville or what Cincinnati does or whatever. I mean, we can't control any of that. We've been talking about it [in team meetings] for two weeks as far as just worrying about what you can control. And the only thing we could do was doing our best to beat Pitt.''

The Mountaineers did that on Friday night, erasing a 20-7 deficit to take a 21-20 lead and then relying on a sack-happy defense to keep Pitt from rallying. West Virginia sacked Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri four times in seven plays on a last-ditch drive, and a crowd of 60,932 celebrated what might be the last Backyard Brawl for a while.

As a result of that win - combined with Louisville's victory over USF earlier Friday, the Saturday win by Cincinnati over Syracuse, and a 40-22 loss by Rutgers to UConn - all that remains of what was a five-team Big East title chase to start the weekend is this: Pitt (5-6, 3-3 Big East) and Rutgers (8-4, 4-3) are out, leaving Louisville (7-5, 5-2), WVU (8-3, 4-2) and Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) to fight it out.

Louisville has completed its season and has earned no worse than a share of the league title. West Virginia and Cincinnati can also earn shares of the championship with wins in their finales.

Which team earns the BCS berth, though, could be all about the Big East tie-breakers. There are really only two - head-to-head and rank in the final BCS standings. As for head-to-head, WVU beat Cincinnati, Cincinnati beat Louisville and Louisville beat West Virginia, making the teams all 1-1 as a group.

And that's the only way West Virginia can win a tie-breaker. With Louisville's season already complete, the Cardinals are assured of at least a tie for the title. If WVU wins this week and Cincinnati loses, Louisville would win the head-to-head tie-breaker against the Mountaineers.

But if Cincinnati also wins, all three teams will be tied and that 1-1 head-to-head mark sends the issue to the BCS standings. And the Mountaineers seem fairly safe in assuming they would be the highest-ranked of the three in the BCS standings. They are the only Big East team ranked in either of the polls used in the BCS formula (No. 23 last week in the coaches poll and No. 24 in the Harris poll) and will likely be stronger or fairly even in the computer ratings.

Of course, none of this is new to West Virginia's players and coaches, just as it was not new last week.

"I'm sure that was in the back of everybody's mind because everybody reads [media accounts] and watches TV and understands the situation,'' Holgorsen said. "But the only thing we can do is focus on what we did.

"Now we've got another big game [Thursday]. We can't control what Cincinnati does or any of that, so we're not going to talk about it. We're just going to worry about winning at South Florida.''

The team that earns the BCS berth will almost certainly end up in the Orange Bowl against the winner of the ACC title game (Virginia Tech or Clemson). If West Virginia doesn't get the BCS berth, the Mountaineers are likely to end up in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte.

That's the same game WVU played in against Virginia as the Continental Tire Bowl and North Carolina as the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

After beating Pitt, though, Holgorsen was trying to be upbeat no matter where his team winds up.

"It was our eighth win and we've got a chance to get to nine,'' Holgorsen said. "We're going to play in a bowl game and all bowl games are fun. So we'll let all that sort itself out and try to win the bowl game and get to 10. That's what our goal is, which would be a pretty good season."

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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