West Virginia head football coach Bill Stewart gives his Mountaineers directions
I sit in Milan Puskar Stadium, Section 214, Row 13, Seat 30. It's a beautiful warm sunny mid-September day, and Maryland is on the field with West Virginia. The Mountaineers take a big 28-0 lead, but the offense stalls. Then, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel gives half of it back on two Terp long ball touchdowns.
That's when Section 214 had seen enough.
The talk for a return to Rodball begins.
Seven days later in a Columbus, Ohio sports bar watching West Virginia flounder at LSU, my good friend and I hear the thunder: "I miss Rich," one guy says.
I think it was me.
West Virginia football has 18 returning starters this season, coming back from a 9-4 2009 campaign during which the Mountaineers finished in the Top 25. The quarterback question was resolved to most everyone's satisfaction after the comeback at Marshall. One of the four not returning, an open wideout slot, has been aptly filled by the speed and peach basket hands of Steadman Bailey.
In comparison, Boise State has 21 returning to its first team.
That's only one new and blue Bronco, and 20 experienced and talented Mountaineers present and accounted for.
I'd say that's close enough to call it what it is: a) Boise State is ranked third in my Consensus Preseason Top 20 poll, b) West Virginia is not within approach distance of that poll, and c) the difference is how the coaching at the two colleges stack up.
Consider Rivals.com 2010 preseason. Looking at the same numbers everyone else is looking at, those being a slew of starters, Rivals.com was compelled to rank West Virginia in its No. 32 slot.
Also, if you read in August the college preview of Sports Illustrated, you may have been puzzled to find WVU and its 18 starters from a 9-4 season not nationally ranked. Worse still, SI put West Virginia in the Big East's No. 5 position.
That of course is WVU at fifth out of eight schools, with only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the magazine's Top 25 as the Mountaineers pull up behind unranked Connecticut and Rutgers.
As we know now, the Big East has fallen apart this season. West Virginia is now in the driver's seat ipso facto.
It's unbelievable. Because of the conference meltdown, WVU can actually go from here and qualify for a BCS bowl by winning the Big East championship.
If West Virginia does that and goes to said bowl and wins it, then the hot seat that both Rivals.com and Sports Illustrated say is burning around whatever part of Bill Stewart's anatomy is on that seat will be doused with water.
How can Coach Stewart reasonably expect to win a BCS bowl versus the champion of another BCS conference if Marshall (which lost to Bowling Green) takes West Virginia to overtime, and the Mountaineers are completely unprepared by Bill Stewart for the most important game of the season at LSU?
You have 18 returning starters in Morgantown—starters from a 9-4 team—and West Virginia presently stands completely out of the BCS question.
Above, I laid out the circumstances by which WVU can change the situation.
We'll know Thursday night October 14 when South Florida visits.
Two problems here: a) South Florida is loaded, I mean packed with talent, and b) South Florida's head coach Skip Holtz has Bill Stewart's number.
As East Carolina's coach, Holtz embarrassed a Pat White-led Stew team 24-3 in 2008 and lost to the Mountaineers on the road 35-20 despite having virtually no defensive backs.
We can begin looking ahead to that one. South Florida is now a circle game.
Back to the Rich Rod question. In spite of the collective vitriol WVU fans have for Rich Rodriguez as the state's traitor laureate, I have to argue that Rich set West Virginia up to finish nationally ranked in the Top 10 during his final years of 2005 through 2007.
And—I know the comment mill will spin out of control on this one—compared to 2010, Rich did it with less talent.