Orange Bowl 2012: What the Huge Win over Clemson Means to West Virginia

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2012

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04:  Stedman Bailey (C) #3 and Ryan Clarke #32 (R of Bailey) of the West Virginia Mountaineers jump in the air as they celebrate after Bailey caught a 6-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Play hard. Play smart. Play fast.

That’s the motto that helped Dana Holgorsen secure the West Virginia job, and that’s the maxim that the Mountaineer team has played by all season.

And that’s precisely what the Mountaineers did in their record-setting 70-33 triumph over Clemson Wednesday night in the Orange Bowl.

Yes, in a new mathematical variation of the slogan, we now know that 60 minutes of effort (play hard) plus only one turnover and a mere 40 penalty yards (play smart) plus an uptempo offense and a sense of urgency from the entire team (play fast) equals victory.

So now that the lights are being extinguished in Sun Life Stadium and the oranges are out of the trophy, what does the big juicy BCS win mean for the mighty Mountaineers?

Well, first in a purely statistical sense the victory is fraught with meaning.

To get the ball rolling, the win gives the Big East a 7-7 record in BCS play, which is nice parting gift presented to the league by a member that has at least one leg already out the door.

Next up, the win takes West Virginia’s BCS record to 3-0, making the squad one of only two teams that have reached perfection with three or more BCS appearances (LSU is 4-0).

Then, you’ve got fun facts like the first Mountaineer bowl win since they bested North Carolina in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl, the first BCS win since they stomped Oklahoma 48-28 in the 2007-08 Fiesta Bowl and their first-ever Orange Bowl win in their first-ever appearance in South Florida’s classic.

But beyond these very cold, hard facts, West Virginia’s dominant victory over Clemson means an awful lot to a Mountaineer program that is on the move.

Up first are tangible recruiting benefits that come via winning a BCS game with tons of exposure…kids want to go to a school that is winning and has the media’s attention.

High-flying West Virginia is now one of those programs.

Then you’ve got a bit of validation regarding Dana Holgorsen’s hiring, and the game’s wide-open, high-scoring nature puts the first-time head coach into the national consciousness as only a dominant performance in a BCS bowl can do.

Next you’ve got the very real possibility that young skill players like quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Tavon Austin will be on early Heisman award lists coming into 2012, and the dominant Orange Bowl win will do nothing but help aid this process.

Yes, when you have nine months with no on-field performances to talk about other than the BCS bowl where you stomped a very good Clemson team, you suddenly have more momentum than all the flowery words that can fly off the press.

70-33—it’s a memory that won’t go quietly in the night…and for West Virginia, that’s a very good thing.

Overall, in a very broad sense that’s the big plus of the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl win for West Virginia, a big healthy dose of momentum.

Dana Holgorsen can continue to talk about “play hard, play smart and play fast,” but with shared tangible results  it’s a lot easier to generate buy-in and then have the necessary confidence carry over on to the field.

The relatively young Mountaineer team will now march into the 2012 season as a team to watch and a foe to be feared regardless of the league they call home.

And that’s precisely what makes the earned momentum even more significant for West Virginia…their move to the Big 12, a transition that will be made far easier (and perhaps more successful) by an upswing on behalf of the entire football program.

When considering what might happen to the Mountaineers as they shift leagues, it’s interesting to look at Miami’s (FL) move from the Big East to the ACC for the 2004 season.

The numbers are fairly telling…the Hurricanes won nine conference crowns, two national titles and ascended to the BCS four times resulting in a 3-1 record as Big East members from 1991 to 2003.

Since they moved to the ACC in 2004 they’ve earned no titles of any kind and have made zero BCS appearances.

The Mountaineers' quick-paced, spread-out offensive attack will fit well into an already pass-happy Big 12, and their fate there is anything but sealed, but it’s hard to argue that it won’t represent a step up in the overall level of competition and therefore a challenge.

Regardless of how you slice it, West Virginia’s overwhelming, record-setting Orange Bowl victory spells good things for a football program moving in the right direction.

Play hard. Play smart. Play fast.

Words to win by.