CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -The hurt is still there for No. 11 West Virginia.
The Mountaineers were so close to locking up a spot in the national championship game. Fans had already bought travel packages to New Orleans. All West Virginia had to do was beat Pittsburgh on Dec. 1 and the trip would have become a reality.
The 13-9 loss to the Panthers, who were 28-point underdogs, shocked the program. But there was more to come.
A bigger surprise came Dec. 16 when coach Rich Rodriguez told his players that he was taking the job at Michigan.
The pain still lingers as the Mountaineers (10-2) head to Arizona on Wednesday without Rodriguez to continue preparations for the Fiesta Bowl against No. 3 Oklahoma (11-2).
``We're still playing a BCS bowl and I think that's pretty much our team's mood,'' said offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek. ``You set out at the beginning of the year to win the Big East and play in a BCS bowl. And that's where we're at. So I think we just need to move on.''
If the Mountaineers are looking for motivation, they can become one of three teams to win 11 games in each of the past three seasons. The others are LSU and Southern Cal. It is also the Mountaineers' second trip to a BCS game in three years.
WVU also can earn a third straight top 10 finish.
``We don't expect anybody to feel sorry for us. That's just the nature of this game,'' West Virginia safety Ryan Mundy said. ``Nothing is forever. We would have liked Coach Rod to stay here, but we realize there is a different side to this and there are other assets that we just don't know about.
``So we just focus on what we can control, and that's preparations for Oklahoma right now.''
The Pitt loss will be hard to forget, but former coach Don Nehlen believes the players won't let it spoil their Fiesta Bowl experience.
``That game was a disappointment, but first of all, this was a young team. If these were all seniors, it might be different. But this is a young team. I think they'll bounce back easily,'' said Nehlen, who coached the Mountaineers in their most recent Fiesta Bowl appearance after the 1988 season. ``They don't have anything to hang their heads about. They're going to the Fiesta Bowl. That's a pretty daggone nice bowl.''
Rodriguez's decision seemed to bother the fans more than the players. He has been criticized on online message boards and by hecklers at the Morgantown airport.
His former players are treating it as a business decision.
``We've still got one game to play. We're going to put all our effort into that game,'' running back Steve Slaton said.

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