WVU Football Preview

Some of our older readers may remember the John Denver song that went ... "Almost heaven, West Virginia."

Well, the 2007 campaign figures to be heavenly for the Mountaineers who charge into the season fresh off back-to-back double-digit win seasons to say nothing of back-to-back bowl wins (there was a time when West Virginia never won its post-season bowl tilts, you know).

There's a plethora of playmakers in the offensive backfield led by big names QB Pat White and TB Steve Slaton and either speed-burner could make a Heisman Trophy case of his own this season - note that Slaton finished fourth nationally in rushing yardage a year ago with 1,744 yards and 16 TDs while White contributed 1,655 yards passing and another 1,219 yards rushing with 13 aerial scoring strikes and a whopping 18 rushing scores.

Note that Slaton had off-season wrist surgery and did not participate in West Virginia's spring drills but the folks in/around Morgantown don't believe that will be a factor come September.

The biggest question marks, however, on offense are these:

Can the rather slender White (he's 6-foot-2 but only 190 pounds at best) stay healthy for the entire schedule this year and will that monstrous West Virginia offensive line be as effective without the services of NFL-bound center Dan Mozes not to mention former O-line coach Rick Trickett?

And will the Mountaineers be able to cover some rather hefty Las Vegas price tags? Note that last year WVU was a betting favorite of 17 points or more on eight different occasions (went 4-3-1 against the odds at the bloated lines) and this Big East crew is a dead-even but vig-losing 10-10-1 ATS (against the spread) as twin-figure betting favs since the start of the 2003 campaign.

Remember that White took his lumps last year and missed the three-overtime win against 10-point pup Rutgers in early December but he did bounce back to play large in the Gator Bowl win against Georgia Tech. Still, one too many shots to his head when he's out-and-about running the football could become a problem.

No doubt head coach Rich Rodriguez - who spent a portion of his off-season getting romanced by the University of Alabama - always has a few tricks up his sleeve from an offensive standpoint and a game-breaker play here or there against Big East rivals Louisville and Rutgers this season may indeed by necessary to win both of these games.

Big East Conference championship odds posted at Bodog.com show West Virginia listed at 2/3 odds to win the 2007 Big East Championship. That means if WVU was able to win the 2007 Big East title every $300 bet would only pay out $200.

The 'Neers are counting on the fact that seven defensive starters are back will aid/assist a unit that ranked a lowly 62nd nationally in total defense last year and the heart of this "D" is at nose tackle where Keilen Dykes - a six-foot-four, 290-pounder and a first-team All-Big East performer in '06 - must enjoy a standout senior season.

Meanwhile, count on free safety Quinton Andrews to be the star performer in the secondary after he collected a team-best eight tackles and picked off a pass in WVU's already-mentioned 38-35 come-from-way-behind bowl win against G-Tech on New Year's Day. Rodriguez has been quoted as saying CBs Antonio Lewis, Vaughn Rivers and Larry Williams all have looked very good in spring drills but there is no question that pass coverage and pass defense was a major problem for last year's WVU crew.

If you're looking at West Virginia's schedule, then note the Mountaineers play at Rutgers on Oct. 27th and follow that up with a prime-time home tilt against Louisville on Nov. 8th. No question that's the make-or-break part of this season for the blue-and-gold.

Last year's team scored 40-plus points in eight different games and there's really no reason to believe this year's offense will take any kind of a dip in overall production and so it's up to a boned-up defense that sports plenty of senior leadership to step it up big-time and you can call it mission accomplished.

You have to consider West Virginia as a longshot to go all the way in 2007. Oddsmakers at Bodog.com have made the West Virginia Mountaineers 7/1 odds of winning the 2007 BCS Bowl Championship Series National Title. With that moderate reward to bettors, you know the guys who set the lines think the Mountaineers MAY have an outside shot at at a title.

Did You Know? ... West Virginia has won 11 of its last 12 road/neutral games since the start of the 2005 season with the sole setback occurring last year in a 44-34 loss at Louisville.

by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us

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