It’s easy to say, “Mountaineers win!” Kind of rolls off my tongue. “Mountaineers lose,” is a bummer. However, I’m not necessarily a homer. I will call them like an otherwise reasonable person might see them.
In 2008 preseason analysis, the winners are “winners” and all the others are “toss-ups.” That’s as close as I can get to the L-word.
The following are predictions for the first six games. The next six, including Auburn and South Florida, will be addressed in a second article to be published by August 10.
Aug. 30: Villanova in Morgantown
Howie Long hasn’t hit anyone in several years, and this isn’t hoops. Even though Villanova is near the top of the FCS, West Virginia should take the Wildcats decisively.
It will be a time to test the basic aspects of Stewball in a controlled scrimmage with officials and, if there is TV coverage, that yellow first-down line. I won’t be comfortable until we’re up by 28.
At that time we possibly, just possibly avoided the Appalachian State hole-in-one trap and will WIN this one.
Sept. 6: East Carolina at Greenville, N.C.
We dominate ECU, winning seven straight since 1999, losing only two since 1989. So, we’re okay? Think again.
I usually do not breathe well until the fourth quarter, because the Pirates are always scary. They perennially get athletes who could be regulars anywhere. This year, Skip Holtz has stockpiled them at wideout (against our porous secondary) and is bringing unusually talented offensive linemen to give everyone time to beat us.
At Milan Puskar in 2005, the year we went 11-1, beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, and finishing No. 5 in the final BCS poll, we barely escaped ECU to the tune of 20-15. They were loaded with a stable of coveted running backs and were driving when the clock ran out.
These guys are the team to beat in C-USA. As well, West Virginia is one of East Carolina’s circle games year-after-year, and they always bring it to us. They have nine returning starters on D with six defensive backs with starting experience.
Virginia Tech warms them up in Charlotte the previous weekend, so they’ll go home used to BCS speed.
I’m saying WIN, but by less than a touchdown.
Sept. 18 (Thursday night): Colorado at Boulder, Colorado
This is the first meeting between these two schools in the John Denver Sing-Along Bowl (“Rocky Mountain High, Colorado” and “Almost Heaven, West Virginia”). The Buffaloes are accustomed to scheduling tough non-conference games. On the other hand, sweet, delectable éclairs have typically filled in the Mountaineers’ non-con slate. That may account for WVU’s outstanding non-conference road record.
It could be a long night for Colorado. Only six return to an already anemic offense in which the offensive line has not recently shown stability. In fact, it’s so bad that if true freshman running back Darrell Scott does not live up to his media hype, the Buffs will find it difficult to score and to pull off its traditional upsets, like last year’s big win against No. 3 Oklahoma.
Colorado has faith in its defense, which can match up well against the run. However, Pat White and Noel Devine will be a major test of that D. Combine that with the fact that West Virginia usually finds a way to play their best games on Thursday nights, and I see a great road WIN by more than 10 points.
September 27: Marshall in Morgantown
Marshall was 3-9 in 2007 in one of the school’s worst seasons in two decades. But last year, The Herd led in-state rival West Virginia at the half by 13-6. Then, finally, Steve Slaton and the offensive line finally kicked in, leading WVU to a 25-point winning margin.
Common sense says the situation will be the same and more of it. I disagree. Marshall has incredible athletes at receiver and a few hungry quarterbacks ready to step up. This is a match-up Bill Stewart does not want to see, as his secondary is weak and won’t get any stronger by this game.
Worse still, Marshall can play with the big boys. If they don’t upset you (No. 6 Kansas State in 2003 in Manhattan, to mention one), they have the propensity to make your life miserable (Ohio State, Tennessee, and Georgia, to name a few).
Marshall harbors an intangible absolutely no university would want. It’s been 38 years since the jetliner tragedy, but the memories linger hard. The 1970 Thundering Herd has taken the field with every team since then, and that’s probably why many times they’re not out of a game until the end.
This one is a big red circle game for the Herd, but West Virginia looks at it as more of an annoyance. That only adds fuel to the fire that will make 2008 Marshall-West Virginia a high scoring affair, as the Herd’s passing attack will stay with the Mountaineers’ running game point for point. The last team with the ball wins this one.
I’m calling it a TOSS-UP and, shamefully, as the no-class Mountaineer boo-birds will be out by the end of the third quarter.
Oct. 4: Rutgers in Morgantown
Bottom line: this is a Pride Game for the Scarlet Knights, so Greg Schiano’s wood choppers will be dangerous. Ultra-seasoned quarterback Mike Teel brings three wideouts and a tight end who could start for almost every BCS team.
Once again, West Virginia’s Achilles’ heel, the defensive backs, will force Pat White to lead a scoring binge in hopes of running Rutgers off the field.
Not so fast, my friend.
Rutgers has to pass. In the past two years, they’ve lost Brian Leonard to graduation and Ray Rice to an early entrance into the draft. No one remains, at least no one like Leonard and Rice.
I don’t know what the Mountaineers' blitz packages look like, but WVU will have to unload on Teel like they did on Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in the Fiesta Bowl. Mountaineer fans remember how much fun that was.
Those who were at Mylan Puskar on that freezing night in late 2006 saw an outstanding Rutgers team go for the Big East title and a BCS bowl game, taking West Virginia three overtimes before losing to the hosts 41-39. That was Greg Schiano at his ax-swinging finest. Even I, the lifelong West Virginian, want to see the Knights play up there again.
There will be flashes of brilliance on this autumn day in 2008, but Rutgers just does not have the ammo to make it happen. The Mountaineers will get a solid WIN.
Oct. 11: Syracuse in Morgantown
I don’t know if I have the fortitude to attend this game. The way Syracuse football has augered in, I just can’t stand to watch. It’s true; they will improve this year over last year’s 2-10 record, but beating the Orange is not like it used to be.
Last year, Syracuse was 27-point underdogs to West Virginia in the Carrier Dome, a place in western New York where Big East teams used to go to die. And (?!) that was after the Orange completely surprised 37-point favorite Louisville…in Papa John’s! The Mountaineers shot off 55 points that day, a record for the 2007 season.
Enough said…big WIN.