September is always a special month. Parents are relieved, teachers are hopeful, students are fresh, and the pad cracking of two-a-days has ended. You're tired of hitting the same guys day in and day out. It's time to get after some new meat.
A quartet of teams with new meat squares off against West Virginia in September 2010. Last season, those four totaled a mediocre record of 23-26. Discounting the Football Championship Series School of The Year, it was a snoozer at 18-20.
WVU should step up the out-of-conference slate, but I'm spitting into a hurricane on that one.
The first month of autumn in Morgantown brings:
- Coastal Carolina, an FCS lose-lose proposition, no matter how many FCS teams visit the Southeastern Conference,
- Marshall and its trap game in Huntington; be wise and be wary, Mountaineer fans,
- Maryland, with a pants-on-fire hot seat Ralph Friedgen leading a desperate team, and
- Yet another huge Southeastern Conference road trip, this one to Baton Rouge and LSU.
Four different teams from four different directions, each craving that elusive September 4-0.
Coastal Carolina, a mid-packer in the Big South Conference, cast away by any service that bothers to follow the Football Championship Series. With a 5-6 record last year, the Chanticleers may see 0-4. This is not a good situation.
I've said it way too many times, so here's my concession: If it has to be, then for the sake of dignity, get a perennial top 25 team that doesn't have to travel far. Names: Villanova, Appalachian State (from the lightning doesn't strike twice department), Richmond, and Elon.
So, what can Coastal Carolina do in their trip to Morgantown? The best thing they have going for them is Aramis Hillary at quarterback. Hillary is a former South Carolina Gamecocks signal caller. One way to get ready for West Virginia is to gain an understanding of SEC speed by scrimmaging against it. QB Hillary has done that.
The best thing West Virginia can do? Score Rich Rod numbers and challenge the defense to a shutout. I know that's not in Bill Stewart's DNA, but WVU has to get ruthless to face the rest of September.
The journey of Marshall football has been the subject of books, documentaries and a feature film. The title of one, "From Ashes to Glory" completely describes the ordeal.
Marshall is a decade removed from the best of the glory. In 1999 the undefeated Mid-American Conference champion finished in the Associated Press Top 10. It's been a zigzag pullback since then, although The Herd finished 6-6 in 2009 and won its first bowl game since 2004.
New head coach "Doc" Holliday, West Virginia's assistant head coach last season, has spent the calendar year figuring out what he has. He says he likes it, but there's the matter of those first two games, Ohio State in Columbus and, of course, WVU.
Doc has a returning quarterback in Brian Anderson, a QB who is hip deep in wideouts like Antavious Wilson. The coach's defense is anchored by linebacker Mario Harvey. "Anchor" is a misnomer because Harvey at 6'0" 250 lb recently exploded to a hand-timed 4.35-40.
This is a dangerous game for coach Stewart. It seriously could go either way. WVU has to put Marshall away and early, silencing the Huntington crowd and even sending the fickle fans home at the half. Stew has to jump on them, first series offense, first series defense. If not, the fans will drive Marshall to the end of the game.
It's difficult to imagine how a head coach like Maryland's Ralph Friedgen can hang around for nine years, absolutely pound West Virginia three times in a 16-month period, (early 2002, early 2003, and Gator Bowl 2003) then auger it in for a 2-10 record in 2009.
Last year's campaign featured only one victory over an FBS team (ACC runner up Clemson!) while the win over FCS James Madison went to overtime.
Preseason services are placing Maryland right around perennial also-rans Virginia and Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That sounds bad, but it's really worse. The offensive line has been decimated, not necessarily by graduation but by poor planning among recruiters. How else can you explain the fact that two starting sophomore offensive linemen are walkons.
Unfortunately, the line will be able to do little for the Terps' quarterback. Fortunately, Jamarr Robinson is a mobile quarterback. That's good for his health because Robinson will have to start sprinting at the snap, scrambling to find his two returning wideouts, Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon.
Maryland was a sieve on defense last season. Linebackers return in 2010, but looking at the linemen and the d-backs, it's not getting much better.
Football is a brutal sport. It is legal assault among the players. The coaches aren't safe, either. Fans and writers alike get to hammer the field generals at will, sometimes slanderous and libelous.
No other head coach personifies this madness more than Les Miles at LSU. In 2007, coach Miles led the Bayou Bengal Tigers to the BCS national championship game, where they beat Ohio State convincingly.
Since then, LSU's faithful has gone for Miles' throat, especially last year after a 9-4 record when he lost conference games to 2008 national champion Florida and eventual national champion Alabama.
Worse, what is the folly of placing a coach squarely on the hot seat who has a 51-15 five year record at the school? Who do the boosters think they can get to replace him? Rich Rodriguez could be available.
It is possible for Les Miles to win himself out of trouble in 2010. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw for 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions last year. He has a tested wideout in Terrence Tolliver and an ultra-talented five-star recruit in sophomore Russell Shepard who is ready to shine after frustratingly spending his freshman year not doing much.
The defense returns only four from an FBS top 25 total ranking, but two, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and cornerback Patrick Peterson, have been mentioned among the All-American circles. Patterson is as close to a shutdown corner as one can find in college ball.
What about the game with West Virginia? If you judge the outcome by preseason rankings, Sports Illustrated thinks their 21st ranked LSU will win in a blowout. On the other hand, The Sporting News and Lindy's see WVU overcoming the SEC speed with speed of its own to make it a classic inter-conference battle.
In an article Bleacher Report released around a month ago, I called for the Mountaineers to beat LSU by "the slimmest of margins." There's a lot of truth to that, with a little theater. The Tigers will see speed in Atlanta against North Carolina as well as two SEC games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
The closest West Virginia will come to matching that speed is at Marshall, and maybe against Maryland if the Terps can block. The ease of the schedule—that's WVU's weakness. If they can at game time quickly adjust, the Mountaineers will have a good chance to win in Baton Rouge. If the speed of the game flummoxes West Virginia, it'll be a long night.
It is obvious that West Virginia’s two road games at Marshall and at LSU can make that 4-0 September disappear.