Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time for Mountaineers to break bread with their families and then butt heads with their neighbors to the north.
But for the first time since 2007, this week will not end with the traditional West Virginia-Pitt football game. Instead, it will end with the Mountaineers traveling to Ames, Iowa, to take on Iowa State. With no Backyard Brawl on the schedule, one of college football's oldest and most storied rivalries has been put on the backburner.
"It is strange and weird," WVU defensive lineman and Pittsburgh native Will Clarke said. "This is usually the time we start preparing for Pitt."
But both schools have left the Big East Conference, as WVU bolted for the Big 12 and Pitt departing for the Atlantic Coast Conference. It will be the first time since 1942 the two schools have not met on the gridiron.
"I haven't talked to any guys from Pitt this week, but I did earlier in the season," Clarke said. "We talked about how it is weird that we will not be playing. Hopefully, something will get worked out to where it can be played again."
So this year's Backyard Brawl takes on a "back-40" aspect. But is it only because Iowa State is WVU's closest neighbor in the vast expanse of the Big 12 Conference?
Going back only as far as 2007, a year that causes Mountaineers fans heartburn because of what might have been. Going into the final game of that season ranked No. 2 in the country and needing only a victory over the 4-7 Panthers for a shot at the national championship, the Mountaineers offensive juggernaut led by Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt was brought to a screeching halt in a 13-9 upset loss, and all hopes of a championship season were quickly dashed.
The man who engineered the defense that led to the West Virginia train wreck was none other than current Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, who was in his final season as the defensive coordinator for Pitt.
"It's a classic rivalry game," Rhoads said. "I've been blessed to be a part of a lot of them: Iowa-Iowa State, Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, and this one ranks right up there with them. It's a shame for those two schools for that rivalry to end. It's aptly named the Backyard Brawl."
Iowa State comes into the contest 6-5 and looking for its first winning regular season since 2005, though it did finish 7-6 in Rhoads' first year with the aid of a bowl game victory. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. today.
"I don't think there is really anything flashy about anything they do," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said.
"If you look at their stats, nothing really jumps out to you. You watch them on film, and nothing really jumps out at you. It is just a very solid, well-coached, effort-oriented team that very technically sound and plays with just a bunch of effort.
"They don't beat themselves. Whatever they do, they do with great effort. Their schemes are fairly simple to figure out."
Holgorsen said his Mountaineer players need to look past the Cyclones' 6-5 record and focus on playing with the same effort as they did in the heart-wrenching loss to Oklahoma.
"If we don't give that kind of effort Friday, then we won't win the game," he said, "because Iowa State is going to be a huge challenge.
"It is a tough place to play. It will be rowdy there, and it means a lot to them and a lot to their kids."