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Monday, January 02, 2006

For WVU, next step is a national title

For WVU, next step is a national title

By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Editor

ATLANTA — Face it, West Virginia has yet to reach the status of a Brand Name college football program.

Rich Rodriguez knows it — and he knows that a win over Georgia tonight in the Sugar Bowl won’t get the Mountaineers there, either.

But it sure would point the program in the right direction.

“The ultimate goal is to win the national championship,” Rodriguez said Sunday.

Understand that Rodriguez realizes that WVU isn’t at that level yet. But that he is talking about it and it’s not a joke shows just what he has accomplished since taking over his alma mater in 2001.

That’s because the team has been meeting goals.

“The first goal when we took the job five years ago was to compete for the Big East championship every year,” Rodriguez said. “No matter what league you’re in, if you’re in a league, that’s usually your first goal, to win the league championship.”

Well, West Virginia has done that, tying for the Big East title in 2003 and 2004 and then finally winning the league outright this year with a 7-0 mark.

In fact, West Virginia is 17-3 in the Big East the last three years.

Winning the title this year helped WVU finally get into a BCS Bowl.

“And that’s the second goal, going to the BCS,” Rodriguez said.

That’s now checked off the list.

That leaves the national title.

“I mentioned (this) in my very first press conference at West Virginia,” Rodriguez said. “One of my old teammates called me the day I got the job and said, ‘Which school has won the most Division I-A games without winning a national championship in their history?’ Of course it was West Virginia, he said. He was kind of putting the pressure on me the day I got the job.”

Indeed, West Virginia is the only team in the BCS without a national title. USC, Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Florida State all have national title trophies.

Of course, there is precedence for the Mountaineers playing for a national title, despite how mythical it might have been at the time.

They faced Notre Dame in 1988 with a mythical national title on the line and there was a chance in 1993 if things had fallen right that WVU could have won the title.

“We have a long way to go before we’re at that level,” Rodriguez said. “Anybody who is coaching at our level, I think would say the same thing.”

Some are closer than others. With youngsters like Steve Slaton and Pat White achieving early success, that would be the next logical step.

Rodriguez seemed relaxed at the final pre-game press conference Sunday.

Rodriguez said he has been asked over and over “if the team is ready.”

“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked if the team is ready, I could do a lot of things for the program,” Rodriguez said. “I think I should turn around next time and say, ‘No, we’re not.’”

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