Not long ago, Saturday night's meeting between Oklahoma and West Virginia seemed destined to be one pitting highly ranked Big 12 teams seeking a prestigious bowl bid.
While the 13th-ranked Sooners maintain slim hopes of reaching that goal, the host Mountaineers simply are hoping to become bowl-eligible.
Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1) was ranked No. 8 heading into its home matchup with then-No. 5 Notre Dame but suffered a 30-13 loss - its second of the season in Norman - that has cut into its chances of returning to a BCS bowl game.
The Sooners have recovered to win their past two contests - including last week's 42-34 victory over Baylor - but they will need to win out and have No. 2 Kansas State lose its last two games in order to earn the conference's automatic BCS bid.
West Virgina's well-documented fall has been much more damaging. The Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4) were undefeated and ranked fifth in the nation before a 49-14 loss at Texas Tech on Oct. 13 sent them on four-game losing streak, during which they've lost by an average of 24.5 points.
They fell 55-34 at Oklahoma State last week and are giving up an average of 41.4 points - fourth-most in FBS.
West Virginia, which also has games remaining against Iowa State and Kansas, needs one more victory to avoid missing a bowl for the first time since finishing 3-8 in 2001.
"It is not a lot of fun for anybody," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The only way to get out of it is to work hard so that is what our coaching staff is doing. There is only one way to get on track, and there is only one way that you can win in college football. I don't care what conference you are in. The only way you win is by hard work."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops isn't concerning himself with West Virginia's problems.
"That wouldn't be something I'd speak to. You can ask Dana or them and ask their analogies of it," he said. "I still see a very good football team. "
Stoops wasn't exactly happy that the Sooners allowed 252 rushing yards last week - the fourth time they've allowed more than 200 - but he was pleased with how they limited Baylor's high-powered passing attack.
Still, the Sooners know they need to improve their run defense moving forward.
"It's unacceptable to give up that many rushing yards," defensive end David King said. "I think we've done a poorer and poorer job of tackling as the season progressed, and something's got to give. We've got to fix it or we're going to start getting beat.''
The Mountaineers, though, are averaging only 81.3 rushing yards over their last three games and rank last in the Big 12 at 132.7 yards per game.
Oklahoma mainly will have to contend with quarterback Geno Smith, who is third in the nation in completion percentage (71.3) and passing yards per game (337.9) while ranking fourth in touchdowns (31) and tossing only three interceptions.
Smith, considered the Heisman Trophy front-runner before West Virgina's collapse, finished 36 of 54 for 364 yards and two TDs last week.
"To a degree we will make some adjustments and again hopefully make some adjustments on the run game," Stoops said. "They still have speedy receivers and an excellent quarterback. Again, everybody has their way with how they like to move the football."
Oklahoma did so against Baylor with help from Landry Jones, who finished 25 of 36 for 277 yards and two touchdowns a week after throwing for 405 yards and four TDs in a win at Iowa State.
"Everything starts with their quarterback, Landry Jones. It seems like he has been there for six years," Holgorsen said. "He is very talented, big kid with a great arm and is a winner."
This is Oklahoma's first visit to Morgantown in a series that's tied 2-2. West Virginia beat the Sooners 48-28 in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, the first meeting since the Mountaineers' victory in 1982.
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