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Orange Bowl notebook: Austin tops nation in total yards; Casteel mum on future

By Jack Bogaczyk

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Tavon Austin needed 63 all-purpose yards in Wednesday night's Orange Bowl against Clemson to finish the season leading major college football in that category.

The West Virginia receiver got there before the first quarter was over.

Austin, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior from Baltimore, started the game with 1,089 yards in punt and kickoff returns, 1,063 receiving yards and 142 rushing yards.

His 2,294 yards already broke former running back Steve Slaton's school record of 2,104 set in 2006, and trailed only New Mexico State's Taveon Rogers, who had 2,356 in the 2011 regular season.

Austin gained 80 all-purpose yards in the opening period, passing Rogers with a 36-yard kick return before he finished that drive with an 8-yard, pylon-touching touchdown reception to tie the game 14-14.

"In the beginning of the season, I never really looked at it," Austin said.

"I really don't pay attention to the stats, but my family always kept me posted, let me know I was in the top five, top three. They let me know I was so many yards away."

Austin did take a look before the start of the season at WVU's single-season records for receptions and receiving yards. He set the school record this season with 89 receptions in the regular season - 12 more than the record shared by Shawn Foreman and David Saunders.

He is second in school history to only teammate Stedman Bailey in receiving yards. Bailey broke Saunders' record (1,043) and had 1,197 yards in the regular season. Austin had 1,063.

"I only transferred over to receiver last year," Austin said. "I carried the ball my whole life and I was used to people handing it to me instead of throwing it to me. The number of receptions is most surprising to me."

Austin said he thought about entering the NFL Draft or to at least explore the possibility of skipping his senior season, but has decided he will simply return to school.

Quarterback Geno Smith said previously he has decided to do the same. Austin's position coach, Daron Roberts, said Austin will "be in the 99th percentile of players in the entire country."

"It's best for me to come back for one more year with the rest of the guys to compete for the national championship," Austin said.

*  *  *

AS EXPECTED, West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel declined to address speculation on his future, and whether he would remain with the program where he has worked for 11 seasons.

There have been reports that Casteel, a Paden City native, might be headed to join his former boss, Coach Rich Rodriguez, at Arizona.

"You know what, I really don't want to get into all that," Casteel said in a noisy WVU locker room after the 70-33 bowl victory. "We should enjoy the win and worry about all those things as we keep going.

"The kids, really, for them to be able to stay focused over the course of a month and a half and coming down to Miami and doing what they did, it's pretty impressive. There's also the 10 wins. I don't know how many West Virginia teams have done that, but not a great deal. It's a big accomplishment for these kids."

*  *  *

WEST VIRGINIA'S 2011 football season has just ended. The Mountaineers don't yet know which conference they'll call home next season, but one source predicts they'll again be a top 25 team.

One of the more popular college football websites, NationalChamps.net, is out with its 2012 "early bird" preview it produces annually.

NationalChamps early bird polls usually are far better prognosticators than, say, Punxsutawney Phil. From 2004-11, in eight polls, the early bird averaged 8.4 out of 10 teams in the preseason AP poll, which is revealed the next August.

WVU is No. 21 in the site's 2012 top 40. And to display how conference affiliation might have an impact on the program, the early bird poll gives an indication.

At No. 21, West Virginia would be the top Big East team, if the Mountaineers remain in the conference for another season. Rutgers is next, at No. 29.

However, if WVU moves immediately to the Big 12, the Mountaineers rank only fifth, following Oklahoma (8), Oklahoma State (10), Kansas State (13) and TCU (16).

The early bird poll had Baylor as the top Big 12 team at No. 7 , but that was before Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III announced for the NFL Draft. NationalChamps put a condition on the Bears' ranking, saying without Griffin, they might not even be in the top 25.

*  *  *

SOME PEELS from the Orange Bowl ...

No. 23 West Virginia is the lowest AP-ranked team to appear in an Orange Bowl since New Year's Day 1967, when unranked Florida downed Georgia Tech.

There's a catch there. The AP poll goes 25 teams deep these days. In the 1966 season, the AP ranked only 10 teams.

Florida was 8-2 entering the bowl and had just fallen from the top 10 to end the regular season. So, those Gators would have ranked higher than the 2011 Mountaineers.

You have to go back to the Jan. 1, 1955 game to find another unranked Orange Bowl team, in Nebraska. Those Cornhuskers weren't poll-sitters, even with an AP top 20 then. They were 3-6-1, losing the game to Duke.

*  *  *

WVU HAS a distinction no Mountaineer team has had since 2003. Coach Dana Holgorsen's first team played three games against foes with at least 10 wins, in LSU (13-0 entering Monday's BCS title game), Big East tri-champion Cincinnati (10-3 with a Liberty Bowl win) and Clemson (10-3 entering the Orange Bowl).

The last WVU team to play three games against teams with at least 10 wins was in 2003, against Miami and Maryland (twice, at College Park, Md., and in the Gator Bowl).

WVU last played three different teams with 10 or more wins in former Coach Rich Rodriguez's first season on the sidelines in Morgantown, 2001 (Maryland, Miami, Virginia Tech).

*  *  *

THE ORANGE BOWL foes, No. 14 Clemson and No. 23 West Virginia are two of the three teams in the 10-team BCS this season that didn't appear in the Associated Press preseason poll.

The other BCS player that wasn't in the preseason poll was No. 13 Michigan, which downed 17th-ranked Virginia Tech in overtime in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night.

Clemson's 8-0 start took the Tigers to as high as No. 6 this season before Coach Dabo Swinney's team dropped three of its last four in the regular season, then defeated the Hokies for a second time to become ACC champions.

*  *  *

WEST VIRGINIA played the Orange Bowl as a 3-point underdog to Clemson. That's nothing new in Mountaineer postseasons.

WVU has been favored in only six of its last 19 bowls.

In two previous BCS trips, WVU won over Georgia as a 7-poing 'dog in the Sugar Bowl to finish the 2005 season, and was an 8-point underdog two years later in beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Mountaineers had been favored in 2008-10 bowls (over North Carolina by 2 1/2, Florida State by 2 1/2, N.C. State by 3), going 2-1, but most years have been an underdog in bowls.

From the 1987 Sun Bowl against Oklahoma State through that 2005 Sugar Bowl in Atlanta against Georgia, West Virginia was the underdog in 9 of 11 bowl dates.

The exceptions were as a 1 1/2-point favorite over South Carolina in the 1994 Carquest Bowl, and as a 6-point favorite over Virginia in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl. WVU lost both. West Virginia also was a 9 1/2-point favorite over Georgia Tech to end the 2006 season in the Gator Bowl, and won 38-35.

Entering the Orange Bowl, Vegas favorites had gone 23-7 in bowls to date this postseason.

*  *  *

THE GOODYEAR BLIMP, Spirit of Innovation, hovered over another bowl Wednesday night, here from its nearby Pompano Beach base for the WVU-Clemson game.

It was that blimp's fourth Florida bowl this season, following Beef 'O' Brady's, Champs Sports and Capital One. Goodyear has four blimps. The others are based in Akron, Ohio; Carson, Calif., and China.

The Orange Bowl was the first event to be covered for telecast by a blimp. Goodyear was up above Miami in 1960 for Georgia's win over Missouri.

*  *  *

A HALL of Fame linebacker  and college football's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks were the Honorary Captains for the Orange Bowl. Clemson's Jeff Davis and WVU's Pat White received the honor.

White wasn't an All-American, but is the leading rusher among college quarterbacks all-time.

A starter since midway through his freshman year, White played briefly in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins before pursuing a Major League Baseball career. He played at WVU from 2005-08.

Davis, who starred for the Tigers from 1978-81 and was a first team All-America in his final season, was enshrined to the Hall in 2007.

*  *  *

WVU DRESSED 69 players for the bowl game - 15 defensive backs, 13 linebackers, 9 defensive linemen, 3 quarterbacks, 3 running backs, 2 fullbacks, 9 receivers, 10 offensive linemen, 2 long snappers and 3 punters/kickers/holder.

*  *  *

THE ORANGE BOWL officiating crew, assigned by the BCS from a conference neutral for the two teams, was from the Big Ten. The referee was Dave Witvoet.


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