Before you start reading, know this much -- most of this information will most likely turn out to be wrong. That is the way predictions work; you get some of the information right, a good portion of it wrong. But, here is a game-by-game breakdown, a week-by-week stab at how I think everything will shake down for the Mountaineers as the season is now just a bit more than a week away.
Game 1: Sept. 4, Coastal Carolina: Not much trouble here, at all. West Virginia should -- and will -- have an easier time than they did in last season's opener, when they let Liberty hang around before finally skipping past them, 33-20. Indeed, Coastal Carolina will come into Morgantown looking to make a name for itself, looking to get one of those wins that force a line of demarcation on a program. It won't happen -- as this one will shift into what so many of these small program/big program clashes often do: The smaller school will hang around for a little while until the line (on both sides) from the bigger school begins to wear on them too much. Also, Noel Devine will rip off a big touchdown run, a run of at least 35 yards --- it seems inevitable in a game such as this. Prediction: WVU 35, Coastal Carolina 10.
Game 2: Sept. 10, at Marshall: Love lost? Not between these two coaches. Anyone who understands everything involved with what happened when Rich Rodriguez left Morgantown for Ann Arbor, understands that current Marshall boss Doc Holliday wanted the West Virginia job. He didn't just want it -- he wanted it badly. Even while he served for a few years as an assistant under Bill Stewart, there were always the rumblings -- fair or unfair, true or not -- that Holliday was angling to get the Mountaineers' job, waiting around for Stewart to stumble. And then came the first day of West Virginia football preseason camp this year, when WVU self-reported possible violations in regards to the use of illegal pads. This was reported in the Charleston Daily Mail just after the situation came to light: "The Daily Mail also learned ... at least one school was looking into the possibility of reporting WVU." That school is widely thought to be ... you guessed it, Marshall. So, hmmmmm. While games are almost always about players, one can't look at this one and ignore the storyline(s) involving the coaches. In saying that, this could be a case of Bill Stewart stepping out of character a bit on a Friday night in Huntington and, if he gets the chance, laying some points on the in-state foe. Prediction: WVU: 38, Marshall 17.
Game 3: Sept. 18, Maryland: This will be the "we did enough to get by" and "a win is a win is a win" game for West Virginia, just like last year against Louisville. It will be the third game with Geno Smith as full-time commander, it will be against a Maryland team that went 2-10 last season and against a coach, Ralph Friedgen, who is seemingly trotting out there every Saturday for his coaching life. Everything says the Mountaineers should roll past the Terps. West Virginia will win, but they will get caught a bit looking ahead to LSU, and be in a funk a tad because of a thrown off schedule -- remember, that Marshall game the week before is a Friday night. Again, WVU will beat the Terps, but it will be closer than everyone will like ... and all the people on the message boards will whine and moan about it. Prediction: WVU 24, Maryland 14.
Game 4: Sept. 25, at LSU: Peeling this one apart 400 different ways, looking at it from seemingly every angle, something just screams that LSU might be a little too tough at home. While West Virginia won't be intimidated by the atmosphere, --- the Mountaineers sure weren't scared last year going into Auburn as Noel Devine ripped off that early touchdown run --- what could happen is that they are a bit too up for this one, that they come out and, from an adrenaline standpoint, kind of punch themselves out. Devine and Jock Sanders will understand this is their showcase game, this is the time they will be on a whole lot of television sets, beamed everywhere from the Florida coast to the Puget Sound, but this is a game where the bit players -- and most important the offensive line -- needs to play well. Against these SEC teams (I know, you are tired of hearing about that "SEC speed") the rush ends and linebackers are just so darn quick, so apt to get to the quarterback. The fear for West Virginia is that, as this is the fourth week of the season, the team has been able to patchwork that right side of the offensive line to this point and been able to win, done enough to get by. In Baton Rouge, that won't happen. If the O-Line woes aren't fixed, WVU simply can't win. Prediction: LSU 27, WVU 17.
Game 5: Oct. 9, UNLV: This is being honest: Don't know much about UNLV other than a few things. 1.) I go to Vegas, a lot -- and always stay at Paris. Wonderful place, get comped and have never been treated as well at any hotel anywhere in the world. The people there are great. Heck, I stayed there when I got married. I was just out there again a little over a month ago. I'm trying to put together a trip when WVU has an off-well. I... well, you get the point, I like Vegas in a broad context and Paris Las Vegas in particular. 2.) The new coach at UNLV, Bobby Hauck, was wildly successful at Montana, but that's not how I know his name. I remember him from a spat he had with the student newspaper up in Missoula last year. Media-types like me pay attention to such stuff. Anyhow, back to the football, West Virginia should have little trouble with the Rebels, as you know how tough it is for a team from the other side of the Mississippi to come to Morgantown and win (think Colorado last year, Tulsa in 1998). Those kind of trips aren't easy, and rarely result in wins. Prediction: WVU 37, UNLV 12.
Game 6: Oct 14, South Florida: Thursday night in Morgantown means a few certainties --- not many students will be in class Thursday, and even fewer will be in class Friday. As for the game, you remember what happened the last time West Virginia tried to stop B.J. Daniels, right? Somethimg says this will be different, something screams that this USF team just won't be the same. Also, this is the Big East opener and also one of those ESPN games with everyone watching. History would say that Noel Devine is going to roar through the secondary at least once, rip off a deep one here -- as he seems to shine brightest when the most national exposure is on him. But, the real way the Mountaineers can move to 5-1 on the season is to contain Daniels (that really isn't a secret now, it is?). For as much as this game could be about West Virginia's offense, could be about the continued maturity of Geno Smith or the firepower of Devine and Sanders, this one will go the other way --- it will be about Jeff Castell's defense. This game will be a showcase to a national viewing audience of the skills that Robert Sands possesses and why he is, quite obviously, one of the best players in the Big East. For West Virginia to win, Sands won't only have to contend with the USF passing game -- and do a better job than WVU did last year -- but he'll have to come up and knock some heads in the run game. Look for him to have an enormous game matched, in some regards, one-on-one with Daniels. Prediction: WVU 28, USF 16.
Game 7: Oct. 23, Syracuse: The Orange were tied for seventh in the league with Louisville last season and, quite honestly, not a whole lot says they should be very much improved. This is a game that is the third of three consecutive home games at Mountaineer Field, where West Virginia goes over a month from their return from LSU until they must go out of town again. In a comfort zone like that, settled into everything nicely, it would be hard to imagine a scenario where Syracuse could beat West Virginia. And then, throw this in: The Orange plays Pitt the week before heading to Morgantown, so there's a chance they could be smarting from a game in which Dion Lewis ran for a few yards and Jon Baldwin caught a few balls. Again, factor all that in and this one could -- and should -- have the makings of an easy conference game, if there is such a thing. Prediction: WVU 42, Syracuse 16.
Game 8: Oct. 29, at UConn: This is the scariest game on the schedule if you are a Mountaineers fan -- or at least it should be. Scarier than the trip to LSU. Scarier than the Backyard Brawl. Scarier than Cincinnati. Scarier than all the other 11 games on the regular-season schedule. Connecticut is an up-and-comer, has been for awhile, there's no question about it. This is one of those made-for-TV, Friday night, program-showcase extravaganza games for the Huskies -- and it will be all lined up for them to win. Something tells me, because you get one every year, that this could be the foul-weather game (what am I, a weatherman now?), that this could disintegrate into a field goal kicking contest or, at the very least, a game won with between-the-tackles, mudders. All things considered, because of all the build up, all the hype and the amount of energy UConn will funnel into this one, I just think the Mountaineers stumble here. Prediction: UConn 16, WVU 13.
Game 9: Nov. 13, Cincinnati: The defending conference champions roll into town and, just like West Virginia, will have a week off just before this game --- don't understate that, as both teams will have ample time to prepare and none gaining an advantage. Now, everyone remembers what happened at Nippert Stadium last season, and to know Bill Stewart is to quickly understand that he is still irked at the call that was made down on the goal line. Stewart genuinely feels that his team, last season, would have beaten a top-10 Cincinnati team had it not been for a blown call by the officials. Onto this matchup, though, gone is Tony Pike (or at least the will-he, won't-he, injury-plagued senior year) and in, full-time, is quarterback Zach Collaros. While he's not B.J. Daniels, he's not far behind -- Collaros is, without any shadow of a doubt, one of the finest athletes in this conference. It is with that said, that this game will come down, again, to West Virginia's defense and, most of all, how Chris Neild and the those guys up front are able (or unable) to disrupt the UC offense. The thought here is that this will be a solid bounce-back game for WVU. Prediction: WVU 28, Cincinnati 20.
Game 10: Nov. 20, at Louisville: Any time you go on the road in college football, there is chance something crazy could happen. It won't here, though. It might be cold, it might be snowy, it might be windy, rainy or hailing -- but the Mountaineers would seem just that much better than Louisville in coach Charlie Strong's first season, to withstand whatever it is the Cardinals want to throw at West Virginia. The only thing at play, quite possibly, could be a look-ahead factor to the Backyard Brawl, but it is doubtful that West Virginia will allow that to happen and should get out of this game with an 8-2 record. In addition, it would seem the way Louisville has juggled quarterbacks right up through preseason camp might be an indicator that it is a problem that could linger all season. Prediction: WVU 31, Louisville 17.
Game 11: Nov. 26 at Pitt: Before I get into the pick, and the reasons why, let me delve into the realization of this being a lose-lose for me -- which ever way I pick this game. If I go with Pitt, all the WVU message board mongers will say I'm a guy from the Pittsburgh paper, picking the Pittsburgh team to curry favor with the people in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, I'll be the guy "out to get" West Virginia who "secretly wants Pitt to win." If I pick West Virginia, to the Pitt message board inhabitants, I'll be the guy who doesn't understand this is Pittsburgh, they are the home team, WVU is not local! And, all predictions that emanate from a Pittsburgh outlet need to pick all Pittsburgh teams to win all the time -- by like 9 touchdowns.
OK, now that is behind us, on with the game....I truly feel, because of how crazy some people are, the UConn loss will be something that the rabble-rousers in Morgantown will be all bent out of shape about, they will be -- I am serious about the -- out for Bill Stewart's job as a result. To further the point, if he were to lose the Backyard Brawl, and the Mountaineers would "fall" to 4-2 in the Big East, they'd want the seat underneath him to really get hot. It is my contention all that will be a factor. Also, the thought here is Pitt almost certainly will come into this game with an unblemished mark in the conference, getting past Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville, UConn and USF. And then there are also those Jock Sanders comments. Remember those? Taking everything under advisement, thinking it through totally, we'll see a classic -- much like the Pitt-Cincinnati game last season. Prediction: WVU 36, Pitt 35 (overtime).
Game 12: Dec. 4, Rutgers: With the craziness of the Backyard Brawl behind the Mountaineers, the chance at a 10-win season in front of them and Bill Stewart's job seemingly firmly in place to carry on into 2011, look for West Virginia to gear down a bit and not sleepwalk, but just kind of "get through" this one. Tom Savage is very good, the Rutgers quarterback in gifted, but as everyone saw last year, he had trouble moving the ball when weather was a factor late in the year. This game should close out the second-consecutive unbeaten season in Mountaineer Field, although it won't be picture perfect, it will leave a lot to be desired heading into the bowl game. It will, however, be the final time Mountaineer Field fans get to see Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, J.T. Thomas and the rest of the Mountaineers seniors at home. And maybe even Robert Sands. Prediction: WVU 20, Rutgers 14.
Final regular season record: 10-2.
Wins: Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Maryland, UNLV, South Florida, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pitt and Rutgers.
Losses: LSU and UConn.
Feel free to comment: Simply click on the 'REGISTER' tab at the top right.