ORLANDO, Fla. -- Quite possibly the surest way to make a football player angry is to suggest the game he's about to play doesn't matter.
There's too much time and effort invested in not only those four 15-minute quarters, but every game, practice and meeting to precede it, for the players to consider the toll taken on their minds, bodies and spirits is without meaning.
And yet that's the idea No. 22 West Virginia finds itself combating as it prepares for today's Champs Sports Bowl, an occasion that cannot come soon enough for the Mountaineers.
"There's going to be a whole bunch of talk leading up to the game, but once the game comes, the only thing that can talk is your pads," said West Virginia safety Robert Sands.
The Mountaineers (9-3) play North Carolina State (8-4) at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN inside the Florida Citrus Bowl. They can get to 10 victories for just the eighth time in 118 years of football at WVU, but variables have conspired to make this game seem as though it's about everything but the game.
Why, Coach Bill Stewart even began his first media session here with a simple directive.
"We're talking about the bowl, men," he said. "This bowl and this bowl only."
A majority of the conversation that followed focused on Stewart's choice to practice just twice here and only seven times since learning of the opponent Dec. 5. Stewart aggressively defended his decision and presented it as normal procedure.
He was later asked why he was so "grumpy."
"I am focused, this staff is focused, this team is focused," he said.
"All we need to talk about is this football game."
It's not that easy and Stewart's status is at the center of the sideshow. WVU announced two weeks ago Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen would come to the staff with the same title for the 2011 season and then replace Stewart in 2012.
When Athletic Director Oliver Luck met with the media Dec. 16 he said he was compelled to make the coaching change in part because of the dip in season ticket sales and attendance. As of Monday afternoon, WVU had sold just 4,701 tickets to the game with an additional 1,350 used for team purposes.
The school was allocated 12,500.