CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -A berth in the national championship game. The final home game for 20 seniors.
There is plenty of motivation for No. 2 West Virginia on Saturday night against Pittsburgh in the 100th version of the Backyard Brawl.
Maybe too much, and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez wants to guard against getting overly psyched up for the Panthers on Saturday night.
Historically there has been a lot riding on this rivalry between the schools 75 miles apart. For West Virginia, the stakes have never been greater - win and move on to the national championship game in New Orleans on Jan. 7.
A loss would relegate the Mountaineers (11-1, 6-1) to a Bowl Championship Series game as the Big East champion and mark another setback for No. 2-ranked teams.
``What I don't want to do is for our guys to get too tight and realize there's so much on the line. Our guys know that,'' Rodriguez said Monday.
Pitt owns a 59-37-3 lead in the series, while West Virginia has a 15-10-2 edge since its stadium opened in 1980.
``The closeness of the two institutions and the fact that we know a lot of their players, they know a lot of ours and we do a lot of recruiting against each other adds to it,'' said Rodriguez, who went 2-1 against the Panthers as a WVU defensive back from 1982-84 and is 4-2 against them as a coach.
For the moment, West Virginia players are keeping with Rodriguez's orders to focus on the game rather than the possible implications.
It shouldn't be too difficult. One-fourth of West Virginia's players are from Pennsylvania, with many coming from the Pittsburgh area.
Free safety Ryan Mundy, a Pittsburgh native, lists ex-Panthers stars Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald and Rod Rutherford as the names he remembers from the rivalry.
Mundy transferred from Michigan for this season to attend graduate school and has seen his share of hype for playing Ohio State. His first Backyard Brawl has a similar feeling.
``It's right up there, especially with so much at stake,'' Mundy said.
Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-4) is assured of its third losing season under coach Dave Wannstedt. Pride is what's important for the Panthers on Saturday.
``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,'' he said. ``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.''
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