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WVU football: Stewart says he's not retiring

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Stewart is not retiring.

An anonymously sourced report on a website Saturday night stated the West Virginia coach would retire at the end of the season. In his regularly scheduled conference call Sunday, Stewart stamped out the report.

"First and foremost, let me begin by saying the reports of my retirement are greatly exaggerated," Stewart said with a laugh as he paraphrased Mark Twain.

"In fact, you heard it directly from me, Bill Stewart. Here we go: No. 1: I have absolutely no intention of walking away. No 2: I am not focusing on retirement. And No. 3, and lastly, most importantly: I am focusing on Rutgers. Now, let's get to the relevant stuff."

The Web report later changed and said Stewart was considering retirement. Stewart was asked Sunday if there was any validity to that or if he has been asked to retire.

"I don't know how to say it any better than those three points I just did," he said. "I really don't. We've got round seven, game 12 and if we can win this game, I'll be very, very happy to. That's all my thoughts, all my focus. This can go on and on and on. I made my statement and I'd like to press on from there."

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Connecticut moved a step closer to its first Big East championship and Bowl Championship Series bid with Saturday's 38-17 victory at home against Cincinnati. The Huskies (7-4, 4-2 Big East) take both if they win a fifth consecutive game Saturday at South Florida.

The Mountaineers, who Sunday were ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the coaches' poll and BCS standings, can share the title with UConn and/or Pitt with 5-2 or 4-3 conference records, but also remain alive for the BCS spot.

"We feel like we're the best team in the nation, if you ask us," said West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. "We need Connecticut to lose, and I hope they do. No disrespect to those guys, but that's just the way it goes."

For WVU (8-3, 4-2) to win the league and the BCS bid, it must win its fourth consecutive in Saturday's noon game at Mountaineer Field against Rutgers (4-7, 1-5). The Scarlet Knights have lost five in a row and were outscored 109-51 the past two games, but beat UConn for its only conference win.

"I believed going into the beginning of the year we were the best team," WVU receiver Tavon Austin said. "We lost two hard games, but at the same time, we've still got a chance to say we're the best in the Big East."

*  *  *

The Big East champion is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl, which has the final pick in the BCS order, against the Big 12 champion. If UConn takes care of its business, the Mountaineers could be bound for the Dec. 28 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., but could also end up in the Big East's third bowl, the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

Notre Dame won its third consecutive game Saturday with a victory at Southern California and finished 7-5. The Fighting Irish have a deal with the Big East and the Champs Sports Bowl to play in that game once between now and 2013 and are eligible for selection this season.

*  *  *

Who knows what it means moving forward, but many of the Mountaineers were excited to see two plays from Noel Devine on Friday.

In the first half he took a simple swing pass and cut between defenders and blockers to gain 48 yards and set up a Smith's 2-yard touchdown pass to Will Johnson on the next snap.

In the fourth quarter, Devine ran to the right and then stopped abruptly and cut back to the left and outran defenders for a 24-yard gain.

"He still has that ability," Smith said. "It's just the fact he hasn't been able to get in space like that lately. If you can put him in space, and he can get going, obviously he can still make the moves."

Devine bruised the bone in the big toe on his right foot at LSU on Sept. 25 and while he's better, he's still not back to normal. Stewart also revealed last week Devine rolled an ankle in the Nov. 20 win at Louisville.

"We didn't reveal too much because we didn't want people to know all the weaknesses," Stewart said. "He's very, very sore, but he played. He said, 'I want to play.'"

On his first play back against the Cardinals, Devine gained 48 yards on a wheel route pass play. His run against the Panthers was his third-longest since hurting his toe and the best since a 32-yard gain against Syracuse Oct. 23. 

"It was good to see him get out and run some," Stewart said. "He's catching the ball out of the backfield now. Whatever we can do to get the ball in his hands, we'll do it. You can't stop everything he does. You either take the run away or get him coming out of the backfield running down the boundary. He can still run faster than most people, but, honest to God, I don't think he has the jump-cut ability he once had."

*  *  *

Senior Chris Neild left Saturday's game against Pitt with a pulled hamstring. Stewart said "by all indications" the nose guard will play against Rutgers, but will not be at full strength with what he termed a third-degree pull.

"He's going to be OK, but he's not going to be great," Stewart said. "I'm not going to lie to you."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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