At 6:30 p.m. Eastern, West Virginia and NC State face off in the Champs Sports Bowl. Need to decide on a team to root for? Spencer Hall is here to help.
WHY DOES THAT MAN SEEM SO SAD THREE DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS, MOMMY? Because he is Bill Stewart, the jilted husband who now must watch a non-West Virginian, an outsider, a youngster who believes in---heavens!---passing the ball upwards of 40 times a game and doing so in an aggressive fashion. Already effectively canned, Bill Stewart has agreed to stick around for a year because he doesn't have anything else to do, or perhaps has cannily wagered on the program needing him when Dana Holgorsen is deemed 2 hott for Morgantown. (Look at this man and tell us intrigue doesn't have him on speed dial. You can't, because it does and you know it.)
PITY IS A VOTE. So is rooting for death on two legs, also known as Robert Sands, West Virginia safety. Imagine Randy Moss really cared about doing his job all the time and played safety. Now imagine he was born with a third adrenal gland, good hands, and a naturally occurring titanium plate in his head, and you have Robert Sands. He's raw as hell but just as violent and fiery, and will be all the aggression West Virginia will have since they're missing center Joe Madsen, starting cornerback Brandon Hogan, and play offense like they have severe allergy to the end zone.
THE ONE MAN WOLFPACK HIMSELF. NC State's defense isn't quite the second ranked unit that the Mountaineers are, but they're certainly durable. Linebacker Nate Irving plays really well for anyone, but especially so for someone who survived a horrendous car accident and missed the entire 2009 season. It's hard to be scared of a collision with anyone when you've already lived through that.
The offensive touchstone for NC State is Russell Wilson, who is superb despite the occasionally conservative play-calling by the Wolfpack's offensive staff. (NC State offensive coordinator Dana Bible calls plays in one of our more boring versions of the afterlife.) Wilson is a 3,000 yard passer with the ability to scramble out of oncoming pressure, is really quite fun to watch when he's allowed to do that, and is the bellwether for the Wolfpack offense. If he's unharried and allowed to shop at will through his reads, this game is over the minute they hit 17 points on the scoreboard.
INTANGIBLES. West Virginia has the clear mascot advantage, since beard > no beard. Bill Stewart's facial expressions also lend a hefty lean to the mountaineers, both because he a.) has them, unlike the impassive Tom O'Brien, and b.) because they're often exaggerated and painful to the point of comedy. NC State can claim John Tesh as a famous alum! THE John Tesh!
LEAN: West Virginia. It's a hopeless pick, but there's Tesh, and the forces of civilization and hope, and we need to know you're standing on the right side of things here.