Playing football in the Big East is not the SEC—I’ll give you that. However, the Mountaineers’ second-half schedule will be tough.
Auburn visits, Connecticut is ready for an ambush at Storrs, Cincinnati rides into Morgantown with confidence, Louisville is lurking in Papa John’s, Pittsburgh wants more and is capable of getting it at Heinz this year, and the South Florida game may challenge all the conference championship games for that weekend’s best.
Oct. 23 (Thursday night): Auburn in Morgantown
To all of you SEC homers, take solace: Auburn has me more than concerned.
Their defense has the speed and ability at linebacker to contest Pat White and Noel Devine.
They return nine to a new passing offense that Tommy Tuberville tried out in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Clemson, with success to the tune of 26 of 43 for 233 yards.
They have the ringer of ringers with new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who just so happens to be the Paul Rhoads who engineered the Pittsburgh defense stoppage of the Mountaineers last year.
Above all, it’s that passing game against the neophyte Mountaineer D-backs. Although talented behind the linebackers, WVU is green in the open field.
The 2006 Mountaineers had a similar situation and gave up too many yards to Marshall (the sign from the wicked football gods), then got absolutely manhandled by pass-happy Louisville. Inexperienced d-backs have burned me once...
As well, Tuberville, according to our friend Phil Steele, is 12-7 off a bye, 24-15 away, and an amazing 6-1 on Thursday night.
This game is a TOSS-UP and is Auburn’s to lose unless the WVU defensive backfield can get it together.
Time to lighten things up with fun facts to know and tell.
Did you know that WVU this season has set the all-time NCAA record for scheduling games with universities that share their name with the city that harbors the main campus of the school? They are Villanova, Syracuse, Auburn, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh.
Even the SEC can’t claim that.
Nov. 1: Connecticut at Rentschler Field in Storrs
WVU absolutely pounded UConn by a 66-21 score last year, so it is safe to say that there will be a hint of revenge in the crisp New England air that night.
Connecticut returns 17 starters from an otherwise 9-4 team that skulked out of Morgantown with the proverbial tail squarely between the legs, so they remember the loss well.
Unfortunately for West Virginia, the Huskies have the tools across the board necessary to make it uncomfortable for the Mountaineers. They run, they pass, and they defend, all with experienced players.
Unfortunately for UConn, all that experience cannot counter the West Virginia speed on both sides of the ball.
Connecticut’s deep stable of running backs are no match for the Mountaineers' aggressive, mobile linebackers, and Pat White will have his left arm in launch mode as his fleet wideouts roll and smoke the Husky pass D.
This one is a WIN, with a lot of points on the mountain mama side.
Nov. 8: Cincinnati in Morgantown
Last year’s game was a tight one, as The Rodster displayed his ability to choke, allowing the Bearcats the opportunity to pull a home upset. His charges held on for a 28-23 victory, but watch out, Wolverines: Rich has the propensity to lose those he is supposed to win.
Cincinnati’s defense is above average, the Grade B variety that can hold its own against most teams. However, UC has but one chance to stop West Virginia: if Bill Stewart falls into a deep sleep and awakens to think he is indeed Rich Rodriguez and starts throwing bubble screens mixed in with lots of runs between the tackles.
The Bearcat wideouts may give the often-struggling WVU secondary fits. But Cincinnati does not have the running game necessary to keep up with West Virginia, nor can their quarterbacks deliver.
UC will give WVU a decent game, but it’s another WIN for another morning in Morgantown (Joni Mitchell) to which to be awakened.
Nov. 22: Louisville at Papa John’s
Louisville is not looking at the prospects of a good 2008 season. It is nice their schedule is relatively easy.
The Cardinals have Kansas State and their rival Kentucky at the Big Pizza, and pastries such as Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee make their schedule delectable. Still, this year will remain a difficult campaign for UL.
So in mid-November, when West Virginia comes to town, the Cards will be the ‘dogs. On paper. And that’s as far as that goes.
As ESPN’s Chris Berman booms out weekly, "That’s why they play the game!"
Louisville quarterback Hunter Cantwell will be playing out his season in waiting for the status as next year’s top NFL prospect. You can bet he’s looking at the Mountaineers in Papa John’s as a chance to add a few figures to his first contract.
He’ll have several plug-and-chug running backs behind him, as well as an offensive line in front of him that now knows the system.
The Cardinals' defense is not stellar, but the offense can match WVU point for point. Louisville at home is always a tough game, but this year there is an added edge of the search for respect. This is another WVU opponent playing a Pride Game, and that’s always dangerous.
I say TOSS-UP. West Virginia will have to play near perfection to escape with their BCS bowl hopes intact.
Nov. 28 (Friday): Pittsburgh at Heinz Field
I was in attendance last year in Morgantown, rating great seats to witness the loss. As we exited Milan Puskar and walked up the law school hill, we passed a launching pad of fireworks that were never ignited, much like the completely unimaginative play calling of Rich Rodriguez in what would turn out to be his final game for West Virginia.
Last year’s game has been overanalyzed, so I’ll keep it simple: WVU was playing in the national championship semi-finals—Pitt was playing in The Backyard Brawl.
The Mountaineers, top to bottom, player to coach to fan, did not respect their hated rivals, looking at them as yet another rung on the ladder.
You can bet Bill Stewart will not make the same mistake. However, this Pandora’s box is well opened and has released a fired-up Panther team personified by its crutch-throwing coach Dave Wannstedt. In other words, get out of the way.
Pittsburgh has improved at every stage of the game since that cold day in Morgantown. They will be rude hosts. West Virginia will need a couple breaks of the game to survive this TOSS-UP.
Dec. 6: USF (South Florida) in Morgantown
If all the toss-ups go West Virginia’s way and USF wins out on its journey to Almost Heaven, this Big East title game will rival those of the other three conferences that do the championship thing.
Ten starters return to a freewheeling offense led by quarterback Matt Grothe, who could meet Pat White here on their way to the Downtown Athletic Club if he stays reasonably healthy.
Defensive end George Selvie and the linebacker corps have the ability to pinch in the spread as they did last season.
USF’s success in I-A/FBS play has performed wonders for a conference in desperate need of respect. This Bulls-Mountaineers game, one that could be a Top 10 match-up, will be one of the more important games of the 2008 season and cannot be anything but a TOSS-UP.
I’m not going to go so far as predicting the significance of this game with regard to the BCS Championship Game, but there will be enough interest to keep it on more than a few televisions in sports bars across the nation.
West Virginia will find a way to work through most of the toss-ups, but the hopes for 12-0 cannot be realistic. The schedule is simply too difficult, even with Auburn and South Florida at home.
Still, as injuries and other surprises take effect, I’ll freshen it up with a prediction for that week’s game.
This should be an interesting season.
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