With all the conference realignment talk, many of us have been distracted from a fairly important game coming up Saturday night between #16 WVU and #2 LSU. Given the 8:00 pm primetime TV slot and first-ever visit from ESPN's College Gameday, this game will be different than many we have experienced recently. It will, without a doubt, be the biggest game at Mountaineer Field in recent memory. But where does it fit in with the biggest home games in WVU history?
Well, there are a number of factors that come into play when talking about the "biggest" games ever. Remember, we're talking about the lead-up to the game, not the outcome. What was the buildup like? What was WVU's rank? The opponent's rank? When was the game played---early in the year or late in the season when more was at stake? Was the game on national TV? What was the state of the program? There are a host of games that come to mind, but here are my top 5:
1. #9 WVU v. #4 Miami, November 20, 1993
The 10-0 Mountaineers packed over 70,000 people into Mountaineer Field on a chilly November afternoon to watch their beloved Mountaineers survive a 17-14 fistfight over what many called the best college football program in the country at the time. A national TV audience tuned in to watch and see if the undefeated Mountaineers were a contender or pretender. The fact that this was the largest crowd in Mountaineer Field history, late in the season of what was the second undefeated season in WVU history against a nationally-acclaimed opponent makes this the biggest game in Mountaineer Field history.
2. #2 WVU v. Pitt, December 1, 2007
I hate to bring this one up, but leading up to the game, few could have been bigger. One win, and WVU plays for the national championship. A night game on ESPN in front of a national TV audience and a raucous crowd ready to take the party to Bourbon Street made this one of the biggest games in Mountaineer Field history. I won't mention the outcome or post a video, but the outcome doesn't take away from the feeling leading up to the game.
3. #11 WVU v. #1 Ohio State, September 5, 1998
The national championship trophy was sitting on the sidelines for the opening game of the 1998 season. A national TV audience tuned in for this 8:00 pm kickoff to see whether Marc Bulger, Amos Zereoue and company could hang with the mighty Buckeyes. The second-largest crowd in Mountaineer Field history was whipped into a frenzy for kickoff in anticipation of WVU's best team since the undefeated 1998 squad. A heartbreaking 34-17 loss gave way to a disappointing season for WVU that ended with an Insight.com Bowl loss to Missouri.
4. #7 WVU v. Penn State, October 29, 1988
The Mountaineers' best team in history was an undefeated 7-0 when arch nemesis Penn State came to town for a nationally-televised game on CBS. More than 66,000 fans jammed into Mountaineer Field on a sunny October afternoon and thousands more tuned in on MSN and TV, where Brent Musberger famously introduced WVU fans as valuing "God, family, and Mountaineer football, and not necessarily in that order." Given the way Penn State had dominated WVU and the way Major Harris had dominated opponents so far that year, fans were anxious to watch the Major work his magic against the Nittany Lions. They weren't disappointed, as Major made the greatest play in WVU history en route to a 51-30 Mountaineer victory.
5. #16 WVU v. #2 LSU, September 24, 2011
Given the current state of WVU football and the uncertainty around the current conference climate, this game should be one of the biggest in the last 30 years. A visit from ESPN's College Gameday, the rare chance to take on a top-2 opponent, an ABC television audience in primetime and the ushering in of the Dana Holgorsen era helps this rank right up there with others on the list. The only drawback is the stakes, because the matchup comes so early in the year. A victory here, though, would vault the Mountaineers into the national title picture as they won't face an opponent remotely as good as LSU the rest of the year. Here's hoping this one turns out more like the Miami and Penn State games and less like the Pitt and Ohio State tilts.
I'm sure there are some games out there that I missed...so which ones would you put on the list? How would you rank the games? Let's hear it!
[photo via files.sharenator.com]