MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04: J.D. Woods #81 of the West Virginia Mountaineers celebrates after they won 70-33 against the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
In a matchup of champions from the ACC and the Big East, West Virginia dominated the Clemson Tigers en route to a 70-33 blowout win in the Discover Orange Bowl. After trading punts, then trading multiple touchdowns, the Tigers kicked a field goal to cut West Virginia's lead to 28-20 with 4:49 remaining in the second quarter. From the point on, West Virginia scored five consecutive touchdowns, went into halftime with a 49-20 lead and extended that lead to 63-20 before Clemson got on the board again.
Last night's performance was the most crisp and effective the West Virginia offense has looked all year, and is a scary sign of things to come as new head coach Dana Holgorsen recruits players that are better suited to fit his offensive system. In all, the Mountaineers finished with 533 yards of total offense and most impressively, rushed for 188 yards, despite only averaging 117 yards per game on the grounds this season. Geno Smith, who saw little action in the fourth quarter, finished the 31 of 42 for 401 yards and a whopping six touchdowns. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin caught four passes for 117 yards and four touchdowns, one where he impossibly stayed in bounds near the goal line to score. In addition to Austin, receivers Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney, and seldom used senior Willie Millhouse were simply too much for the Clemson secondary. Millhouse only caught 13 passes during the regular season, but caught 3 last night for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The win was a bittersweet victory for fans of the Big East who have seen the Big East be the recipient of constant, sometimes unfair, criticism as a football conference. With the win, the Big East champion is now 7-7 in BCS games with wins over the champion from the SEC, Big 12, and ACC. The conference the Big East is so often compared to, the ACC, dropped to 2-13 with both of its wins coming against Big East champions in the Orange Bowl. It also marked the fourth time since 1999 that the ACC champion was defeated by 13 points or more in a BCS bowl. Still, the media perception has been and will continue to be that the Big East was without question the worst college football conference and miles apart from even the ACC.
On the other hand, some of the excitement from the win was tempered by the realization that this may very well have been West Virginia's last football game as a member of the Big East. Whereas Pittsburgh and Syracuse are abiding by the Big East exit agreement, the Mountaineers wish to play in the Big 12 in 2012, so while Big East fans can enjoy the win, it remains unclear if the Mountaineers will even be one of "us" beyond June of 2011. If it is their final football game in the Big East, the Mountaineers have been, outside of Miami, the premier football program of the Big East and in that short time been to multiple BCS games and won them. If last night was any indication, the Mountaineers will do just fine in the Big 12 and continue to be one of the nation's best football programs going forward.
For more coverage of the Big East's bowl season, check out our bowl games section.