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Playing on: A UConn-West Virginia preview

Not a whole lot of time to flesh out my thoughts, so just some quick musings on today's game:

I've always liked West Virginia. Their fanbase is easily the most tolerable in Big East. Couch-burning is just plain awesome. Seventy thousand singing along to "Country Roads" is a pretty excellent postgame tradition, and they've got two of my favorite fight songs. Their mascot is a dude with a beard and a gun (in this year's case, a purty girl with a beard and a gun). All in all, the 'Eers get a big thumbs-up from me.

I think, after this past week, I like West Virginia even more.

West Virginia of course, will be UConn's first opponent since the tragic death of Jasper Howard, and the Mountaineers are rolling out the welcome mats and showing their support.

To wit:

  • WVU students signed a banner supporting the UConn team;
  • The student paper is urging WVU students and fans to be respectful this afternoon.
  • Facebook groups urging fans similarly have popped up, and the WVU team will be wearing #6 decals.

Simply put: thanks, Mountaineer Nation. You all, along with your coach and team, are class acts.

There is a game today, but frankly, the result couldn't be less important. Yet given the circumstances, this might be one of UConn's most important games ever.

Milan Puskar Stadium has not been kind to UConn in the past (a 45-13 blitzing in 2005 and, of course, the 2007 Big East championship fiasco), and while the fans may not be as out for blood as they might usually be, this is still one of UConn's toughest games this year.

On the field, anyway, UConn is showing some good things. The defense has been torched the last couple times out, but the offense is showing that maybe, just maybe it can carry its weight.

A win here would be UConn's first-ever against the Mountaineers (only Big East team they've never beaten) and would put UConn in great shape bowl-wise (as the Huskies need at least two Pitt losses to think about a Big East title).

For its part, West Virginia has taken a step back from the high-powered superoffense of Pat White and Steve Slaton, though Noel Devine is, rest assured, still ridiculous (122 rush ypg, 6.4 ypc).

If this were a Disney movie, UConn would grow so close as a team that they'd be able to pull off a miraculous string of victories, win the Big East title with an 80-yard pass on the final play of the season and end the season with 70,000 people in the Orange Bowl chanting Jasper Howard's name. (Also, their coach would be Denzel Washington or Gene Hackman.)

But as I said, the result couldn't be less important. UConn is probably not going to beat a solid West Virginia team on the road. Given the emotion of the past week, my hope is that the Huskies can simply stay competitive and play with fire and spirit in memory of Jazz. Anything beyond that would be gravy.

Prediction: West Virginia 27, UConn 17