As part of the project, we are having fellow bloggers and other college football personalities from around the SEC and the rest of the nation give us their take on the current state of college football. This approach will allow us to bring you a much more in-depth look at the 2009 season than we could possibly provide on our own.
And now for the interview.
Gatorsfirst (G1): How did you become a fan of your team?
Matt Freeman (MF): If you like sports and you’re from West Virginia, you almost have to be a fan of WVU.
I myself actually attended WVU, so that turned me into the fanatical sort that went to the trouble to create a website dedicated to the team.
But one thing outsiders to WVU athletics may not realize is that the Mountaineers are really the state team.
To a state with no professional sports teams, having a successful program that actually represents us is more important than one may realize.
West Virginians are fans of sports just like everyone else. The dominant NFL following in West Virginia is Steelers/Redskins. With baseball it’s mostly Pirates and Reds.
But those teams don’t belong to us.
They belong to Pittsburgh, D.C., and Cincinnati. The Mountaineers are the one national sports entity that is definitively West Virginia.
Coming from a place where the state itself is used as a punchline in too many ignorant stereotypical jokes, it’s important to have something that represents us as a state (and represents us well) on the national stage.
The Mountaineers are about more than just a college football team to us: it’s a matter of pride in your home.
(G1): Describe the gameday atmosphere.
(MF): Every fan of every team is going to tell you their gameday atmosphere is unlike anything else in college football.
The same is the case with the Mountaineers.
On gamedays, Morgantown becomes the most populous city in the state of West Virginia. The drinking is legendary, as you will see from WVU’s ranking in the top 10 of party schools for any list you can find, every single year.
(WVU also holds the distinction for being the only school I’ve ever heard of where the students rushed Mountaineer Field and tore down the goalposts…after an away game. Students headed towards a darkened Mountaineer Field en masse, stormed the gates, got to field level, and brought down the goalposts after beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2002. So you can imagine what it’s like when the home team is actually there.)
Perhaps unique to WVU is the affinity for igniting furniture after a major victory. (Our very website name, We Must Ignite This Couch
is based on such a tradition.)
But there’s a common misconception that couches are burned after every victory. Honestly, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a football-related rash of couch-burnings since 2003, when WVU upset No. 3-ranked Virginia Tech at home.
Here’s the criteria for couch-burning, all of which must be met:
- Major victory over a top-ranked opponent
- Upset Victory over hated rival.
As the Mountaineers have been highly-ranked in recent years, there really haven’t been that many upset victories, and hence many fewer opportunities to set bonfires in the streets.
(G1): Give me some thoughts on your coaching staff. Are you satisfied? Do you wish your team ran different schemes? How is recruiting?
(MF): This is a touchy subject around WVU.
WVU’s head coach, Bill Stewart, is the captain of the All Good Guy Team, and is legitimately one of the nicest, most honest people ever to coach in the NCAA.
But there are a number of detractors around the state that believe he was handed the keys to a Lexus last year following Rich Rodriguez’s departure, and drove it directly into a ditch, losing games to ECU, Colorado, Cincinnati, and Pitt (not exactly a murderer’s row).
While I understand that he’s changing schemes and creating a different culture, I can say that the consensus among fans is that there’s some serious improvements to be made.
The coaching staff that he assembled is actually one of the most accomplished staffs in the nation, and the recruiting classes he’s hauled in to date have been two of the strongest classes in program history, including a highly-touted QB prospect from your neck of the woods in Gino Smith of Miramar HS. (Who turned down offers from all four major programs in Florida.)
Scheme-wise, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen faced some criticism last year for short dink-and-dunk passing even in the face of 3rd and longs, but his effort to bring an aerial attack to a town known for consistently ranking in the top 5 in rushing nationally was bound to meet criticism.
He’ll have another shot this year with a QB that is arguably a better passer than his predecessor Pat White (who was obviously other-worldly as a threat to run). Defensively, WVU runs a 3-3-5 stack with defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel at the helm, and is coming off of a solid year, ranking 11th in the nation in scoring defense.
(G1): Who is a player we might not know from your team that you are excited about this season? Why?
(MF): Ever hear of a 6’8’’ slot receiver?
Well, we’re giving that a shot this year.
WR West Lyons has been a tantalizing talent for a few years now, but hasn’t really put everything together until this spring, where he was voted most improved offensive player. He’s tall, athletic, and as you can tell from this YouTube clip, he has some physicality.
If he develops into the goal-line weapon he should have been all along (he’s going to be a foot taller than most people covering him), opponents could be very frustrated defensively.