The West Virginia Mountaineers are bowl eligible for the 11th straight season, and now have a chance to feast on new Big 12 rival Kansas to get to win No. 7.
The Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8) come to town with more questions than answers for their football team, but have played top teams tough down the stretch in numerous games. TCU, Texas and Iowa State all felt that hurt, but Kansas can't seem to make big plays down the stretch to win ballgames.
West Virginia (6-5, 3-5) finally got over the five-win hump to gain bowl eligibility and put Geno Smith back in contention for a high draft spot. These pesky receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey continue to give the rest of the Big 12 problems, and Iowa State was no different in Week 13.
Coming off a bye week, Kansas will try to gain some semblance of momentum heading into the offseason without a bowl game since 2008. They have some dangerous pieces on offense and can give West Virginia trouble if the Mountaineers decide to take this one lightly.
When: Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
Watch: Fox Sports Net (check local listings)
Betting Line: West Virginia -20 (according to Vegas Insider)
Injury Report via USA Today (as of 11/27/12)
No new injuries to report at this time.
Who are you taking as of right now?
LB Isaiah Bruce - Questionable (Leg)
BCS/Top 25 Implications
Not many to report for this game. While seven wins is impressive for West Virginia, beating Kansas at home won't attract the attention of national voters. If Kansas finds a way to pull the upset, it will give the Jayhawks win No. 2 on the year. Needless to say, not much BCS attention here.
What They're Saying
Kansas has an underrated running game, with stud backs James Sims and Tony Pierson both reaching the 700-yard mark so far this year. The Jayhawks are actually 19th in the country in rushing yards per game, breaking the 200-yard mark on several occasions.
ESPN Big 12 reporter David Ubben knows that West Virginia is going to have its hands full with the running game this weekend, giving the Jayhawks a better than average shot at the upset.
West Virginia should be able to reach seven wins against Kansas, but the Jayhawks could take advantage of a soft West Virginia run defense and make it interesting. There's a big difference in ending the season with a win or extending a Big 12 losing streak to 21 games.
Sports Illustrated's Kyle Kensing notes that head coach Dana Holgorsen is throwing as much fuel on the fire as he can for this matchup, even though it's only the second time these two programs will meet on the gridiron.
Holgorsen said his team is at a "schematic disadvantage" this week against Charlie Weis and the Jayhawks, a reference to something the former Notre Dame head coach said when still with the Irish.
Holgorsen’s “schematic disadvantage” comment is a callback to current Kansas head coach Charlie Weis’ arrogant assertion he would provide Notre Dame a “decided schematic advantage.” Such an advantage resulted in the Fighting Irish going 16-21 in Weis’ final three seasons, missing the postseason twice and peaking with a Hawai’i Bowl win.
It isn't exactly a slap in the face, but clearly Holgorsen is not impressed with what Weis has done at Kansas anymore than the rest of the country was with his work in South Bend.
CBS Sports' Jerry Palm took some fan questions this week, one of which concerned the bowl positioning for the Mountaineers. If they win, he can see them making the long trip back to San Antonio, Tex., for the Alamo Bowl in late December.
alamo RT @honeyroypalmer: If West Virginia beats Kansas next week, where do you see them ending up?— Jerry Palm (@jppalmCBS) November 24, 2012
Kansas Player to Watch: RB James Sims
Sims is an under-the-radar pro prospect that I like a lot. He doesn't have elite speed or quickness, but finds holes in the zone running scheme as well as any back in the country.
Take note of his performance on Saturday, even if it's against one of the Big 12's worst defenses. He needs just 44 yards to get to the 1,000-yard mark for the season, a high accomplishment considering he's been sharing carries with Pierson in an effort to make the run game more dynamic.
He seems to get better as games go on, and if Kansas wants to have any shot at beating West Virginia, it will have to rely on Sims to take the pressure off of Dayne Crist or Michael Cummings, whoever lines up at QB this weekend.
West Virginia Player to Watch: S Karl Joseph
Joseph is a freshman from the state of Florida, but he plays like a seasoned veteran. He hits hard, is active in the run game and is quickly becoming the best player on that West Virginia defense.
He reminds me a little bit of former Oklahoma safety Roy Williams. Not afraid to stick his head in during coverage or run support, Joseph will likely be counted on a lot to help stop Sims and this rushing attack. He'll have to fill the hole if Kansas is pounding the rock, but has the physical tools and mental capacity to do so.
He struggles in coverage from time to time, but remember—he's still a freshman. Clearly the bright spot on what's been a terrible defense this year, Joseph is one to watch this weekend and going forward as the Mountaineers will try to revamp the defense in 2013.
Key Matchup: West Virginia Front Seven vs. Kansas Rushing Attack
The games that Kansas has been able to keep close have been decidedly more low-scoring than its opponents have played against other teams. That's the case because of an expanded running game, helping to keep the clock moving and the other offense off the field.
West Virginia has given up less yardage to running backs than it would appear at first glance, but that's because the Big 12 is decidedly more focused on moving the ball through the air than on the ground. Not Kansas, which prefers to use the run to set up the pass like a traditional football team would.
To put this one away early, the Mountaineers need to control the trenches and get off the field on third down. If Sims and this offense are getting five yards per play, it's going to be a long day in Morgantown.
On the Hot Seat: Head Coach Charlie Weis
With a 1-10 record, any coach is going to be on the hot seat. I don't think Weis is in any immediate danger, but as evidenced by Gene Chizik last week, losing your final game in blowout fashion isn't any way to head into the offseason.
If Weis and Kansas get blown out, things could get interesting in the athletic office.
Kansas comes out strong in the first half and takes a 17-14 lead going into the break, but Smith and these skill players prove too athletic for the Kansas secondary in the second half. Kansas yet again can't finish—the theme of its 2012 season.
West Virginia 38, Kansas 27
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.