Is there any team left on the Mountaineers' schedule that can derail West Virginia from winning the Big East and earning its Bowl Championship Series berth?
That is the question most fans are asking themselves as No. 11 WVU takes to the road for the second time in 2011 to play in the "Big Bubble" known as the Carrier Dome against a Syracuse team (4-2, 0-1 Big East) that is still looking for its first conference victory.
The answer is, yes-West Virginia.
With one of the most exciting offensive attacks in the country led by junior quarterback Geno Smith and a bevy of talented receivers and a defense that appears to be getting better every time it takes the field, the answer should have been an easy no.
But, any fan that has followed the old gold and blue over the past decade understands the fears that many have surrounding a possible letdown that results in an embarrassing loss. One only has to look back to last year's meeting with the Orange.
Three first half interceptions and a defense that harassed Smith the entire game and limited the Mountaineers to 106 yards rushing on 35 carries resulted in a 19-14 setback at Mountaineer Field. WVU came back to earn a share of the Big East crown, but the loss to Syracuse, as well as a 16-13 overtime loss at Connecticut, gave the Huskies the BCS berth while Mountaineer fans traveled to the Champs Sports Bowl to watch their favorite team lose an uninspired contest against N.C. State.
There is at least one major difference in this year's edition of the old gold and blue, however. It is new head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Long time defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has proven that he can slow down just about any offensive attack and the unit had its share of successes in last year's five-point loss to the Orange, holding the visitors to only 63 yards through the air and forcing them to settle for field goals on four occasions during the first 30 minutes and off the scoreboard the entire second half.
But, an offense with basically the same personnel-plus a stable of new running backs-has gone from averaging barely 25 points per game to more than 40 and is posting new highs every week.
Yes, Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone and his staff have had an extra week to prepare for its second conference tilt of the season. But, so has Holgorsen and his staff. The Orange also have the advantage of playing at home.
But, WVU fans can take solace in the knowledge that their Mountaineers have won as many times as they have lost during the last 14 games in the Carrier Dome and have come out victorious in their last four visits to Syracuse.
They can also rejoice in having a team that has matured under its youthful-looking head coach and appears to be unrattled when things start out slowly. Any team can be beaten on any given Saturday (oops, make that Friday). But, I don't believe it will happen in Syracuse.
Contact Jim Butta at firstname.lastname@example.org