By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
September 15, 2006
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – What do you say we have a little fun. Can someone out there remind me again why the ACC is considered one of the country’s best football conferences, running right up there with the big boys in the SEC, the Big 12 and the Big Ten?
I must be missing something. I see Boston College opening the season by struggling to beat Central Michigan by seven. Keep in mind, the Eagles consider themselves a national program now that they're in the ACC instead of the Big East.
I see North Carolina losing at home to Rutgers and then getting hammered a week later by Virginia Tech. I see Virginia getting whacked upside the head by Pitt to open the season before hanging on for a 13-12 tooth-puller the following week in its home opener against Wyoming (I heard one NFL scout at the West Virginia-Maryland game actually use the word horrendous to describe Al Groh’s Cavalier team).
I see Wake Forest pulling out a 14-13 victory over Duke -- a team that lost 13-0 to I-AA Richmond a week earlier.
Maryland, 2-0 after season-opening victories over I-AA William & Mary and Middle Tennessee State, was out of the West Virginia game just five minutes into it. Afterward, Terp coach Ralph Friedgen said his team was “star struck.”
Then of course there is North Carolina State, which beat Appy State by 13 in its home opener before falling to Mid-American Conference kingpin Akron, 20-17 last weekend.
“They’re in a conference that allows non-qualifiers in school,” says N.C. State coach Chuck Amato. “Non-qualifiers. Y’all need to look that one up to write stories.”
Amato goes on to call non-qualifiers “inversely proportional to what their grade-point average is” … whatever that means.
A week earlier during a discussion of how tough the ACC has become, this is what Amato had to say: “If a team goes undefeated in this league, they probably ought to go right to the Super Bowl.”
Bobby Bowden, the man now sitting in the catbird seat after his Florida State team knocked off Miami in a game that had all of the allure of Geraldo cracking open Al Capone’s secret vault (with twice the hype thanks to ESPN), drew an interesting comparison between the ACC and the Big East.
“For your own safety, you’d rather be in the Big East, because you got a chance to go through there,” Bowden said. “Now, which has more prestige in the United States of America? The ACC. You better be pretty darn good if you think you’re going to come out of there alive.”
I guess it’s probably a good thing then that Troy State is in the Sun Belt.
Florida State needed a fourth-quarter comeback to knock off the men of Troy, 24-17. The powerful Seminoles had 45 yards rushing for the game – which was twice as much as they had in their season opener against Miami. I suppose that’s progress. I think I recall hearing one of the ESPN talking heads saying Florida State was making the running game a point of emphasis this year.
Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer is perhaps the man best qualified to talk about the strength of the ACC, having won regular season conference titles in both the ACC and the much weaker Big East.
“There’s no question it’s tougher,” Beamer said. “When we had the Big East, you had a better avenue to the championship. But the trade-off is now you’re in a great league with a championship game; great excitement.”
This is the same line Mr. Beamer feeds recruits.
This week No. 14-rated Virginia Tech prepares for an epic ACC battle against Duke. Be sure to catch the replay of that instant-classic bloodbath on ESPNU Monday afternoon.
Thankfully for Virginia Tech, the Hokies don’t have Troy on the schedule to derail their BCS hopes.
Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets get their crack at the Trojans Saturday afternoon.
The views and opinions expressed here do not neccessarily reflect those of West Virginia University and the Mountaineer Sports Network.
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
September 18, 2006
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With three home victories under its belt, the No. 4-rated West Virginia University football team now must play four of its next five games on the road beginning with Saturday’s trip to East Carolina. Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez is anxious to see how his team will react.
“We have some young guys playing for us defensively and we’ve still got some things to clean up. Are we a better football team than last year? We’ve played like it at times this year but this is our first road test and we’re going to be in a tough environment. Their crowd gets into it. This is going to be their biggest game and we’ve got to be prepared for that,” Rodriguez said.
The coach admitted that sometimes road games can be easier on a team because there are less distractions and the coaches are with the team all of the time.
“You worry about the young guys. How do they handle it? Do they handle it like a business trip like the veterans do?” Rodriguez said. “We have enough veterans I think that they can explain to the guys about how to go about it.”
Following its trip to Greenville, West Virginia has road games also coming up at Mississippi State, at Connecticut and at Louisville sandwiched between a homecoming date against Syracuse.
“Our guys have got to understand how to take care of business and how it’s going to be now that we’re ranked. It’s going to be a big crowd wherever we go and we’re not going to be very popular for the folks we go at and we’ve got to learn how to handle that,” Rodriguez said.
East Carolina gave West Virginia all it wanted last year in Milan Puskar Stadium, falling 20-15. The Pirates actually had the ball at midfield with a shot at a game-winning touchdown on the final play.
“They gave us a lot of problems last year,” Rodriguez said.
The Pirates (1-2) are feeling a lot better about themselves now after their 35-20 come-from-behind win over Memphis last Saturday. The ECU defense held Memphis to just 95 yards rushing and forced six Tiger turnovers in overcoming a 20-7 halftime deficit.
Both West Virginia losses in the series have come on the road, dropping a 23-20 verdict in Greenville in 1995 and losing a 30-23 decision in Charlotte in 1999. West Virginia’s last trip to Greenville in 2003 resulted in a 48-7 Mountaineer victory.
# The yellow handkerchief, an old nemesis for the Mountaineers, has returned. West Virginia was flagged 10 times for 95 yards in last Thursday’s 45-24 win over Maryland. After three games, West Virginia leads the Big East with 240 penalty yards.
Rodriguez said Monday on the Big East coaches’ conference call that penalties are a topic he has addressed with his team at considerable length.
“There were a couple that were aggressive penalties when you grab a guy you shouldn’t have or you keep blocking him past the whistle which you shouldn’t do,” he said. “Then there were some that were really stupid: lining up offsides defensively three times and a couple of the personal fouls that are totally unnecessary.
“I was really upset with that and I mentioned it to the team after the game, I mentioned it to them in our Friday meeting and I will mention it to them today. The message will get across and if they continue to do it they simply won’t play.”
# Rodriguez said his team came out of last Thursday night’s game with Maryland relatively healthy. The coach hinted that safety Ridwan Malik (shoulder) and defensive end Doug Slavonic (ankle) may be available for Saturday’s game.
“We’re pretty healthy coming out of the game,” Rodriguez said. “We’re waiting to see if Ridwan Malik and Doug Slavonic will able to go and we’ll take a better look at them today and tomorrow when they put the pads on.”
# Despite Steve Slaton gaining 195 yards and scoring a pair of TDs against a quality opponent in Maryland last Thursday night, the Big East picked South Florida freshman quarterback Matt Grothe as its offensive player of the week. Grothe completed 21 of 32 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns in USF’s 24-17 come-from-behind win over Central Florida.
Slaton, who leads the conference with 503 yards rushing and an astonishing 8.1 yards-per-carry average, had a little more motivation last Thursday night playing against the school that rescinded his scholarship offer.
“We didn’t try to put too much pressure on Steve because of his recruiting situation,” Rodriguez said. “We just wanted him to go out and play and improve and I think he’s doing that. He made a few mistakes in the game but he played with great passion as he always does and I think he’s going to keep getting better and better.
“He understands what his role is in our offense. When he makes big plays like he did in the last ballgame and like he did in several ballgames it certainly gives a boost to all the guys on our team,” Rodriguez said.
“I would like to think our guys want to make a personal statement in every game if they’re real competitors. One of the attributes of Steve is that he always runs hungry. He runs like he’s trying to score on every play,” said Rodriguez.
# Junior Darius Reynaud was named the Big East special teams player of the week after returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against the Terps. It was WVU’s first kickoff return for a score since Pacman Jones did it against Boston College in 2003.
# The Big East is now 4-2 against the Atlantic Coast Conference this year following last Saturday’s games. The two conferences have just two games remaining against each other: Cincinnati travels to Virginia Tech and South Florida goes to North Carolina.
The coaches in the Big East have little time to think about the two conferences, but that doesn’t stop reporters from bringing up the topic. A couple of writers this morning asked Rodriguez about the Big East’s performance so far against the ACC.
“I didn’t lie awake at night thinking about it but where you get tired of it was hearing it in recruiting,” Rodriguez said. “Your competitors from other leagues in recruiting were talking about the Big East not being this and not being that and that got a little bit old. I think finally now -- at least in recruiting circles -- you can’t say a whole lot about our league. I think it’s proven to be pretty strong.”
Rodriguez says the best thing to do is to let the season play out and take a look at it again at the end of the year.
“The thing I’m anxious to see if we got beat in a non-conference game does somebody jump all over the league for losing a non-conference game?” he said. “That was the thing that was happening the last couple of years and now maybe we won’t see that as much.”
# The West Virginia coach was also asked to put himself in Louisville coach Bobby Petrino’s shoes having to prepare his team without two of his best offensive players in running back Michael Bush and quarterback Brian Brohm.
“Every coach will tell you that injuries are a part of the game and you want to have luck and avoid them. But that’s what makes football such a great game and such a team game,” Rodriguez said. “You see that from a lot of the top programs in the country. They lose a guy or two and they have enough depth that they still can keep on winning.”
Hopefully, Rodriguez doesn’t have to find out.
Hey Nick I'll be at the ECU game, are you gonna be there? I guess it would be a lot to ask of my pirates to win this game but I'll be rooting for them the whole way! I'll be fresh off a 14 hour shift going crazy, maybe we'll keep the game interesting
Wow that was a great game, it was really close until the end. All I have to say is Slaton has some nasty moves and White needs to work on his deep passes.
Steve Slaton in WVU's 42-14 win against Mississippi State: 26 att, 185 yards, 1 TD
The man is a beast.
Think West Virginia can be contained if you shut down Steve Slaton? Think again. QB Patrick White rushes for 247 yards and four TDs in WVU's win versus Syracuse today!
I know I expressed doubt that WV would get serious consideration from the BCS because of their schedule, but things have changed dramatically. The Mountaineers at #3 are poised for a great opportunity to control their own destiny and possibly move into national title contention.
A win against Louisville, who has been getting huge props as a legitimate national title contender, would stregthen the WV case for a #2 BCS ranking should they win out, knowing that either #1 Ohio State or #2 Michigan will drop after they play each other.
There are forces working against them and the BCS often gets stupid, but if WV takes care of their own business, they should get that serious BCS consideration.
Updated: Oct. 30, 2006, 7:46 PM ET
SEC's conference standing taking a hit in 2006
By Mark Schlabach
I've spent the majority of my professional career in SEC press boxes. From Fayetteville, Ark., to Columbia, S.C., I've always felt SEC schools had the most rabid fans, the prettiest coeds, several of college football's best settings and many of the game's best athletes. The South has always been the region where college football matters most.
Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia team is pointed toward the national title game.
So nine seasons out of 10, I would probably agree that from top to bottom, the SEC is hands-down the best conference in college football.
But not this year. The SEC might still be the deepest league in the land, but it's not good enough this season to afford a mulligan to Arkansas, Auburn, Florida or Tennessee, which are all trying to jockey their way back into the BCS title game picture now that USC has fallen.
If the winner of Thursday night's Louisville-West Virginia game at Papa John's Stadium in Louisville (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET) finishes the season with an undefeated record, that Big East champion will be more deserving of a spot in the Jan. 8 BCS title game than any one-loss team from the SEC.
In fact, undefeated Louisville or West Virginia would be more deserving than the loser of the Nov. 18 game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan. And it would be more deserving than one-loss Texas, one-loss California or one-loss Notre Dame.
"Certainly, you keep your eye on that," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said of the BCS standings. "When you saw USC lose, it's one more step for the winner of our game or the winner of the Big East having a shot at the BCS title game. Rutgers is sitting out there undefeated, so there's more to the season than this game."
The Mountaineers and Cardinals would probably struggle to finish unbeaten in the meat grinder that is the SEC. Auburn couldn't do it this season. Neither could Florida, nor Tennessee. Auburn had its chance to win a national championship and lost to Arkansas. Florida lost to Auburn, and Tennessee lost to the Gators. LSU might be the best team in the league, but the Tigers can't win big games.
The bottom of the SEC is worse than the bottom of the Big East. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have combined for two conference victory. Georgia can't score. Kentucky can't defend. South Carolina can't win games that matter.
And what have those SEC teams at the top done besides beat each other? Arkansas got crushed by USC in Week 1. Auburn's best nonconference win came against Washington State.
Florida beat Southern Mississippi and Central Florida and finishes the season against I-AA Western Carolina and Florida State, which is playing like a I-AA team. Tennessee has the SEC's best nonconference win, 35-18 over California in the opener, but the Vols struggled against Air Force and barely beat Alabama and South Carolina.
For that matter, whom has Ohio State beaten besides Texas? Whom has Michigan beaten besides Notre Dame? Whom have the Fighting Irish beaten at all?
So it can be argued that Louisville and West Virginia have played just as tough a schedule as everyone else.
The Big East isn't chopped liver. Rutgers is one of six unbeaten teams left in Division I-A.
Pittsburgh is 6-2 and was on the cusp of being ranked before the Scarlet Knights beat the Panthers.
Cincinnati and South Florida aren't as easy to beat as Mississippi State, and both the Bearcats and Bulls should play in bowl games again. Syracuse and Connecticut still have a ways to go, but both are getting better.
Brian Brohm's return from injury rekindled Louisville's title aspirations.
"We're a small league, but from one through eight, we're as strong as we've been in a long time," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I think all of that talk about the demise of the Big East should be gone."
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese isn't looking past Thursday night's game between his league's two powerhouses. The Mountaineers still have to play at Pittsburgh on Nov. 16 and host Rutgers in a Dec. 2 finale in Morgantown, W.Va. (who would have ever thought a Big East regular-season game would trump the ACC, Big 12 and SEC championship games on the last day of the season?). If the Cardinals beat West Virginia, they still play at Rutgers on Nov. 9 and at Pittsburgh on Nov. 25.
"I haven't even given it a lot of thought," Tranghese said, when asked about the possibility of unbeaten Louisville or West Virginia being left out of the BCS title game. "If that happens, I will be disappointed. But I'm not going to sit here and scream about it. I don't even worry about it. There's still a long way to go. There's a lot of games left. I don't even know if we're going to have an undefeated team left at the end. Those teams still have tough road games left."
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was screaming about the BCS, even before his Tigers were upset at home by Arkansas 27-10 on Oct. 7. Auburn regained its footing to beat the Gators 27-17 the following week, but struggled at Ole Miss before beating the lowly Rebels 23-17 last Saturday.
With Tuberville's team right in the middle of the BCS beauty pageant, in which strength of schedule and final scores will matter most during the next month, Auburn is preparing Saturday to play … Arkansas State.
Along with Washington State, the Tigers' other nonconference games were against Buffalo and Tulane. And the Tigers won't face a formidable opponent on the road this season -- they played at Mississippi State, South Carolina and Ole Miss and play rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 18. The Crimson Tide were losing to Duke in the second half three weeks ago.
Beating Georgia, which lost to Vanderbilt and nearly lost to Colorado and Mississippi State, won't do much for the Tigers' strength of schedule this season, either.
Conversely, the Big East teams' strength of schedule figures to get better. If West Virginia finishes undefeated, it will probably have beaten seven teams with winning records -- if Cincinnati, East Carolina and South Florida finish better than 6-6. An undefeated Louisville team would have as many as nine wins against teams with winning records -- if Miami, Kansas State, Middle Tennessee and Cincinnati finish strong.
The Mountaineers' victory over Maryland looks better and better each week, and the Cardinals played the Hurricanes at home and Kansas State on the road. There are few SEC teams that can claim such quality nonconference wins.
"I think because there are so many games left, I don't know how you can compare strength of schedule until the end of the year," Rodriguez said. "For us, everybody said our nonconference schedule wasn't very good. But look at what Maryland did. They beat Florida State and have done well. I think if there are two undefeated teams left from BCS conferences, those two teams will be there."
In a perfect college football world, teams such as Louisville and West Virginia would get an opportunity to prove themselves against the likes of the SEC.
The Mountaineers got that chance a season ago -- and they waxed the SEC champions in the Sugar Bowl
I'm looking forward to Thursday's game against Louisville, but I'm pretty nervous about it. Our pass defense hasn't been great this season, meaning Brohm and company could carve this defense up if they're having a good night. That said, Louisville hasn't looked that great the last few games, so it's anyone's guess. Slaton hasn't been as hot in recent weeks as he was to start the season, but he had a breakout game last year against Louisville so maybe he'll bring the heat again. I'm just praying for a win, because these guys are more mature than they were last year when they shocked everyone in the Sugar Bowl.
The time is here. Good luck tonite Nick, but I hope my Louisville Cardinals shut down WVU rushing attack.------
Pat White has 349 rushing yards in his two Big East games this year. (AP)
White-out: Sharp bettors think Louisville can stop WVU
By Tim Roberts
Wed, Nov 1, 2006
After blowouts in their last three aired games, ESPN Thursday Night Football execs are begging that the West Virginia Mountaineers and Louisville Cardinals repeat last year’s 46-44 triple overtime shootout.
The Cards, losers of last year’s instant classic, hate that idea. With all three of last year’s losses and this season’s closest call sharing a common characteristic, they know exactly how to prepare for a different result.
“I`d be making stuff up if I said we haven`t been hurt at times by running quarterbacks,” Louisville defensive coordinator Kevin Wolthausen told The Louisville Courier-Journal.
And no quarterback in the nation can run like Mountaineers sophomore Patrick White, his team’s indisputable starter since engineering the comeback against Louisville in a relief role. In his 12 subsequent starts, White has racked up 1,267 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. More importantly, West Virginia hasn’t lost any of them.
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino told The Lexington Herald-Leader that White can be stopped if defenders stay in the rush lanes and avoid giving him big gaps. He’s also assigned one defender specifically to take White.
To that effect, Petrino used backup receivers Johnny Patrick and Pat Carter as Pat White stand-ins in recent practices. Both have been trying to replicate the quarterback’s raw speed in and out of the pocket.
“I think it’ll help,” says Sportsmemo.com’s Rob Veno. “It’s one thing to simulate it in practice and completely another to bring it on the field, but there are lots of returnees on the defense who saw White last year too.
“[West Virginia] are not going to beat you downfield. They complete most of their big passes off play-action, so if Louisville commits eight to the box and assigns a spy to White, then I think they’ll have trouble.”
Louisville’s other losses last year came at South Florida (with Pat Julmiste taking the snaps) and against Virginia Tech at the Gator Bowl (with Marcus Vick’s athleticism a key in another Louisville collapse).
The Cardinals are 7-0 this year but Cincinnati came within a tipped pass in the end zone of a massive upset. Bearcats quarterback Dustin Grutza channeled his inner Randall Cunningham to compile more than half of a career-high 75 rushing yards during a late drive.
“I think there`s a new era in college football of having running quarterbacks, and a lot of teams made late adjustments to it,” Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye told the Courier-Journal. “Obviously, we`re one of those teams. But we`ve been working on it a lot, because it`s one of our flaws.”
In all four games noted above, the Cards failed to beat the number.
“[Louisville] is a fantastic pass rush team, geared towards pocket passers,” says Veno, explaining the troubles with athletic quarterbacks. “Just look at how they pounded [Miami quarterback] Kyle Wright earlier this year.”
Oddly enough, it’s the pass rush on the other side of the ball that has Veno leaning towards the Cardinals at home.
“West Virginia had no pass rush at all in their first five games and they’ve played nobody,” he says.
“Going into the Miami game, the thinking was that if you don’t pressure [Cardinals quarterback] Brian Brohm, you’ll get chewed up. I don’t see the Mountaineers reaching Brohm at all.”
The logic follows, then, that if the Cardinals can keep White and fellow jackrabbit Steve Slaton relatively in check, then they can establish another lead like they did last year. And that’s where the lack of downfield passing would hurt the most.
“If West Virginia has to play catchup, I don’t think they’ll do it this time,” Veno says.
The total for tonight’s game is set at 56.
Down goes WVU! Down goes WVU!
Well, this would have been a different game if WVU doesn't fumble the ball six times, losing three. That's not an excuse though, because good teams minimize mistakes. WVU did not play good fundamental football tonight, and Louisville did what they had to do to win. Hats off to them.
I said from day one this game could go either way, so this comes as no surprise. WVU's pass defense was horrid. Receivers were not only open all day but gained plenty of yards after the catch. The offense gained yards but three lost fumbles, one that leads for a score, isn't going to win you anything. This was really like watching one team play itself - productive offense with little or no defense. Only difference seemed to be WV's inability to protect the football and Louisville's ability to execute and not make mistakes.
Congrats to the 'Ville on a well played game!