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West Virginia enters into enemy territory

| Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida State's fight song rang out of the speakers as West Virginia players walked off the team's bus for its final practice before Friday's Gator Bowl.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart expects to hear that song a lot during the game, which will be played in what he considers enemy territory.

"Our players know what they're up against," Stewart said.

Despite the Mountaineers' 9-3 record, they are calling themselves the outsiders against 6-6 Florida State.

"This game is going to be on a big stage," said WVU linebacker J.T. Thomas, who grew up a Florida State fan. "It's real close to Tallahassee, so I'm sure they'll have a lot of 'Noles fans there."

In addition, Florida State will be playing for Bobby Bowden, who is coaching in his final game before retiring.

"He may drive out in a new car and have those 300 ex-players lead him out — that's what they should do," Stewart said.

Stewart said he expects the crowd noise to be "deafening," but West Virginia is accustomed to playing bowl games in enemy territory. WVU is 4-0 in its past four bowl games.

The Mountaineers upset Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. The next year, the Mountaineers came back from a big halftime deficit to defeat Georgia Tech in the 2007 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

In 2008, WVU lost its coach, Rich Rodriguez, but was still able to upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.

Last year, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Mountaineers beat North Carolina in their home state.

Ironically, the Mountaineers' last bowl loss was against Florida State in the 2005 Gator Bowl.

Stewart, who led WVU in the past two bowl wins, said he can't get a good read on his team's mental state.

"We want to have fun, but we also have to work hard," he said. "Can you separate fun from being mentally prepared• That's the thing. These guys have done a good job the last couple of years, I hope this group will be able to do the same thing."

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