MIAMI SHORES, Fla. - J.D. Woods is majoring in criminology and investigations at West Virginia University, but it doesn't take much probing to figure out why he's starting in the Orange Bowl.
"Coach (Dana) Holgorsen is always preaching to make plays and you'll get a chance, and that's what I tried to do," said Woods, a redshirt junior and home state starter at outside receiver for WVU (9-3) against 14th-ranked Clemson on Wednesday night at Sun Life Stadium.
As recently as the Thanksgiving week heading into the 104th Backyard Brawl against Pitt, even Woods couldn't have predicted how his season would finish.
In fact, Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass was needed to check his statistics.
As a backup receiver, Woods entered the final game of the season - at USF - with two receptions for 14 yards. He had played in only six of 11 games, and not at all since an early October triumph over Connecticut.
As it turned out, the 6-foot, 175-pound Naples, Fla., native got the start over Ivan McCartney at Z receiver in the Mountaineers' regular-season finale at USF.
Woods caught four passes for 38 yards, including one each on WVU's game-tying and game-winning drives.
"He only (started) one game, but in that one game he made some pretty big catches," Holgorsen said. "I guess we've got to play in Florida for him to do some good things. The good news is we play in Florida this week. He'll probably have a huge game."
As for McCartney, the first-year WVU coach said the former Miramar High School star "is still in the developmental stage. He's still a young guy who didn't play very much last year, and towards the end of the season didn't do as much as we wanted him to and he's a backup now ... We need him to continue to get better."
Woods, who became WVU's seventh different starter at the four receiver spots, said Sunday that some of his emergence was rooted in resilience, although he admitted that not playing over a four-game stretch (Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati) "was very tough, but at same time, you have to overcome that. There are going to be trials and tribulations, but you have to overcome those."
Woods, who started four games at inside receiver last season, did it by opening coaches' eyes in practice. Now, he's starting in a BCS game over a prominent WVU recruit, McCartney, who grew up in the shadows and public-address echoes of Sun Life Stadium.
"He's making plays in practice," said the Mountaineers' outside receivers coach, Daron Roberts. "We always preach the same thing: Make plays in practice and we're going to give you an opportunity to make plays in the game.