Despite barely missing out on a BCS bowl, West Virginia had a successful season. That apparently wasn't enough to satisfy the school's athletic director, and it will eventually cost the Mountaineers coach his job.
Not long after Oliver Luck's surprise announcement that Bill Stewart will cede the head coaching position to Oklahoma State's Dana Holgorsen for the 2012 season, the No. 22 Mountaineers will face North Carolina State in Orlando's Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday night.
West Virginia (9-3) won its final four games, but missed out on the Big East's automatic bowl berth when Connecticut beat South Florida on Dec. 4.
The strong overall season wasn't enough for Luck, who announced Thursday that Holgorsen has been hired as West Virginia's head coach in-waiting, scheduled to replace Stewart in 2012. Holgorsen will serve as the Mountaineers' offensive coordinator next year.
I didn't believe we had an opportunity to win a national championship with the direction of the program," said Luck, who first met with Stewart on Nov. 14, the day after a 37-10 win over Cincinnati. "At the end of the day, results matter. And we weren't getting the results."
Luck said he decided at the conclusion of the regular season to let Stewart keep his job next season because of the four-game win streak. Stewart will take an undetermined administrative post in 2012.
"I think coach Stewart did a marvelous job toward the second half of the year," Luck said. "We went on a great win streak, and I thought he deserved the head coaching position for the 2011 season."
For their part, the Mountaineers will try to focus on the task at hand as they make their eighth straight bowl appearance.
West Virginia ranks second in the FBS in scoring defense at 12.8 points, second in rush defense at 85.1 yards and third in total defense at 251.3 yards. The squad ended the regular season playing some of its best football, allowing four touchdowns over the last four games.
Four West Virginia defensive players were named to the All-Big East first team -- lineman Chris Neild, linebacker J.T. Thomas and backs Keith Tandy and Robert Sands. Somewhat surprising omissions from the first team were end Bruce Irvin and lineman Julian Miller, who accounted for half of the Mountaineers' 40 sacks, tied for third best in the FBS.
That defense will look to stop a North Carolina State offense that was second in the ACC with 32.6 points per game. The unit revolves around Russell Wilson, who led the conference with 3,288 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Wilson, who finished two points shy of Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor for All-ACC first-team honors, had eight 300-yard passing games and attempted 60 passes in the regular-season finale. The junior is also a dangerous runner, rolling up 394 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Like West Virginia, North Carolina State (8-4) had its BCS dreams disappear on its final day of the regular season.
The Wolfpack needed to beat Maryland on Nov. 27 to earn a spot in the ACC championship game, but lost 38-31 after building a 14-0 first-quarter lead. The team is looking forward to the opportunity to avenge that defeat against West Virginia, which also played the Terrapins this season, handing them a 31-17 loss Sept. 18.
"It's a great opportunity for us to finish things on the right foot, because I don't think anybody on the team -- especially the seniors -- want to be remembered for the performance that we had against Maryland," said North Carolina State's Nate Irving, an All-ACC first-team linebacker. "We have an opportunity to play a great team and show how good we really are."
The Mountaineers also have a skilled quarterback in Geno Smith, who was second in the Big East with 2,567 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, both second most in school history behind Marc Bulger's 3,607 yards and 31 TDs in 1998.
Smith threw for a career-best 352 yards in the finale. He has one interception in his last five games.
This will be the first meeting between these schools since North Carolina State's 38-14 win Sept. 22, 1979. West Virginia leads the series 5-4, and this will be the third matchup in a bowl.
The Mountaineers have won four of their last five bowl appearances.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every College Football game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.
Russell Wilson or Geno Smith? They're both dynamic quarterbacks. Wilson, the NC State junior, finished 11th in the nation in total offense, while the West Virginia sophomore Smith threw 23 touchdowns against just six interceptions this year. The Mountaineers feel like they should have been in the BCS; here's a chance to prove it. -- Brian Bennett