National Title Aspirations

West Virginia has already clinched the Big East title and a berth in the Bowl Championship Series. Now it's on the verge of something much bigger.

The second-ranked Mountaineers host archrival Pittsburgh on Saturday in the 100th edition of the Backyard Brawl with a spot in the BCS title game on the line.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made West Virginia -28 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 54% of bets for this game have been placed on West Virginia -28 (View College Football bet percentages).

West Virginia (11-1, 6-1) defeated then-No. 20 Connecticut 66-21 on Saturday night to win its second Big East crown in three years. Coupled with losses by top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Kansas, the Mountaineers moved up a spot to No. 2 in the BCS standings.

The whirlwind weekend sets up the Mountaineers to play in the national championship game Jan. 7 in New Orleans if they can beat the Panthers.

"It's the biggest game in my lifetime,'' West Virginia quarterback Pat White said after the win over the Huskies. "I don't think it will be tough to be focused. This team is focused. We were today, and it will carry into next week. We will be ready.''

The Mountaineers were ninth in the first BCS standings Oct. 14, but White has carried them to this position during the last month, improving his chances in the Heisman Trophy race in the process.

The junior rushed for a season-high 186 yards and two touchdowns, and threw for 107 yards and another TD last Saturday. In his last four games, White has rushed for 644 yards and six touchdowns while passing for 572 yards and three scores.

"I'm biased. I think he is the best football player in the country,'' West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said.

White had one of the best games of his career in last season's 45-27 win over Pittsburgh, running for 220 yards and two touchdowns and passing for 204 yards and another two scores. In his first Backyard Brawl as a freshman on Nov. 24, 2005, White also rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing for 41 yards, one TD and one interception in a 45-13 victory.

The Panthers lead the series with West Virginia 59-37-3, but the Mountaineers have won four of the past five meetings. West Virginia, winner of 26 of its last 29 at Mountaineer Field, has taken three of its previous four home games over Pittsburgh.

"We want to finish the deal next week in a big rivalry game,'' said Rodriguez, who went 2-1 against the Panthers as a West Virginia defensive back from 1982-84 and is 4-2 against them as a coach. "We haven't played Pitt with more at stake."

West Virginia leads the Big East in rushing at 310.1 yards per game, and racked up a season-high 517 yards on the ground in its win over UConn. Freshman Noel Devine rushed for 118 yards on 11 carries and Steve Slaton had a pair of TD runs.

Slaton, who finished fourth in the Heisman race last season, has rushed for 1,042 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He's amassed 394 yards and four TDs on 57 attempts in two games against the Panthers.

Pitt (4-7, 2-4) allowed 193 yards on the ground and fell 48-37 to South Florida last Saturday, assuring the program of its third losing season under coach Dave Wannstedt.

Panthers freshman LeSean McCoy scored three touchdowns to give him 14 on the season, breaking Tony Dorsett's school freshman record of 13 set in 1973. McCoy had 55 yards on 18 carries and has 1,180 yards, 81 shy of the Big East freshman mark set by Rutgers' Terrell Willis in 1993.

The Panthers have lost seven of their last nine games, and must upset West Virginia to avoid their first eight-loss season since they were 2-9 under Walt Harris in 1998. Pitt has lost six straight on the road dating to 2006, and 11 of its last 14 away from Heinz Field.

"The West Virginia game was always the one that you circled and said it didn't make any difference what the records were at that point,'' said Wannstedt, who went 1-2 against the Mountaineers as an offensive tackle at Pitt from 1971-73 and is 0-2 against them as a coach.

"You're always looking for something when you're struggling like we are. You're always looking for things to add to the game. And playing West Virginia, the rivalry is one thing. Now you're playing a real quality team, maybe the best in the country. It all adds to the excitement of the game, there's no question.''

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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