60F Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen insists the Mountaineers are focused on this week's trip to Florida, not a possible one in January.
No. 22 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2 Big East) must beat South Florida on Thursday night, then get a win by Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) over Connecticut on Saturday to forge a three-way tie for the conference title with Louisville (7-5, 5-2).
If that happens, the berth would go to the team with the highest ranking in the final BCS standings next Sunday. West Virginia is currently 23rd.
"What this team is going to be remembered for is what happens this week at South Florida," Holgorsen said Monday. "Right now this is the only game on the schedule, and we've got to give it everything we've got."
If West Virginia loses and Cincinnati wins, the Bearcats would earn the BCS bid. A Cincinnati loss would give the BCS bid to the Cardinals no matter what West Virginia does because Louisville beat the Mountaineers during the regular season.
The Atlantic Coast Conference championship game between Clemson and Virginia Tech will determine one representative in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl. There's been reports the winner will face the Big East champ.
Up until Thursday, Holgorsen only wants his players' attention exclusively on the Bulls (5-6, 1-5), saying he needs "total effort, total focus and total energy."
"That's the only thing that counts," he said. "Once that's over, it's out of our control. I'm sure everybody is going to be glued to the TV set if we're able to get a victory Thursday night. But if we can't take care of business and get the victory Thursday night, it really doesn't matter what happens on Saturday."
West Virginia has been in must-win mode ever since losing to Louisville at home on Nov. 5. A win at Cincinnati on Nov. 12 was followed by a 21-20 comeback win over Pittsburgh on Friday night to set up the final week of drama.
"The closer you get to winning a conference championship, the bigger the game gets," Holgorsen said.
Things weren't looking good after the Mountaineers fell behind Pittsburgh 20-7 early in the third quarter of the Backyard Brawl.
That's when 348-pound redshirt freshman Quinton Spain and 300-pound sophomore Curtis Feigt were inserted on the offensive line and West Virginia responded with two touchdown drives.
On defense, the Mountaineers registered six of their 10 sacks of Tino Sunseri in the fourth quarter and held Pittsburgh out of the end zone after halftime.
Spain and Feigt will start against South Florida, which has lost six of its last seven games but can become bowl eligible with a win.
"It's a one-game season and we've got to make sure we come out focused and ready to play," West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith said. "We can't have any letdowns."
The Mountaineers easily handled South Florida in last season's matchup, but they've lost the last two meetings as the visitor. The Bulls, though, have dropped three straight at home and lost 34-24 to Louisville on Friday.
South Florida is in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
"I'm the head coach, that's where it starts and that's where it stops," said Skip Holtz, whose Bulls opened with a victory at Notre Dame en route to a 4-0 start. "I've got to do a better job of holding our staff to a higher standard and our staff has to do a better job of holding our players to a higher standard."
The Bulls played the entire game Friday with sophomore quarterback Bobby Eveld, a former walk-on, because of a shoulder injury to starter B.J. Daniels.
Eveld was 20 of 35 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception, helping South Florida take a two-touchdown lead late in the first half before the Cardinals came back.
The Bulls' last five losses have been by a total of 25 points.
"I take it personal," Holtz said. "We've come close, but we haven't done a good enough job."
Smith went 24 of 31 for 219 yards and threw two TD passes in last season's 20-6 win over South Florida. The junior leads the Big East with 3,741 passing yards and 25 touchdowns while being picked off only five times.
"This week we certainly have probably arguably one of our biggest challenges," Holtz said. "... West Virginia comes in as a very explosive offensive football team."