Third-ranked Oklahoma thought it deserved a shot at the Bowl Championship Series title after a number of late-season upsets shook up the standings. But the Sooners finished behind another twice-beaten team, Louisiana State University.
No. 11 West Virginia only needed to beat Pitt -- a team that lost to Navy -- in Morgantown, W.Va., to clinch a berth in the national title game.
The Mountaineers stumbled to a 13-9 loss, then watched coach Rich Rodriguez bolt for Michigan two weeks later.
Denied a shot at No. 1, the Sooners and the Mountaineers have to manufacture motivation as they prepare to meet in the Fiesta Bowl tonight. After a week of workouts in the desert sunshine, they say they're ready to go.
"Both teams have been in the national title hunt all year," Oklahoma strong safety D.J. Wolfe said. "Both teams are trying to go out and show the world what we can do."
Each side has something to play for, though it's not as obvious or compelling as a national title.
For the Sooners, the game represents a chance to erase the painful memories of last January's loss to Boise State on the same field.
West Virginia, meanwhile, looks to rebound from a dispiriting December in which the Mountaineers lost a shot at the national title and their head coach. It wasn't an ideal way to prepare for a game against the Sooners, their toughest test of the season.
"I think this is going to be the biggest game we have this (season) because of what happened," wide receiver Darius Reynaud said. "After coach Rod left, we got together as a team, and we've been sticking together."
Rodriguez's departure has generated controversy and ill will at his alma mater; the university's Board of Governors has sued to collect a $4 million buyout of his contract with the school.