|Mountaineers are new beasts of Big East|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 07 August 2008 11:39|
Apparently, West Virginia didn't get the memo from the league office.
The Mountaineers haven't quite reached Hurricanes-level dominance, but over the last three years, they've won 34 games and finished in the top-10 in nation three times, with league championships and BCS victories in 2005 and '07.
Favored to win the Big East again this season behind its Heisman Trophy contender quarterback, there's no doubting West Virginia is the conference's premiere program.
But can the Mountaineers stay on top with Coach Rod in Michigan and Coach Stew running the show in Morgantown?
``We like proving people wrong,'' senior tackle Ryan Stanchek said. ``I think it's great for the football team. I think we do a lot better when we are the underdog. We do better when we have something to prove. So keep telling us that we don't have a coaching staff.''
During the tumultuous time after Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia for Michigan, Bill Stewart, a West Virginia native like Rodriguez, directed the Mountaineers to a 48-28 victory against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Stewart, an affable longtime assistant, was rewarded with a promotion to permanent head coach, putting one of the most talented teams in the country in the hands of a man whose only head coaching experience was three lackluster seasons at VMI.
It seemed all of West Virginia loved coach Stew after the Fiesta Bowl, but that warm and fuzzy feeling won't last if the Mountaineers stumble this season - and he knows it.
``I don't worry about that pressure,'' Stewart said during Big East media days in Rhode Island earlier this month. ``Every game, they're all big. We're going to approach every game in a championship manner.''
The mastermind behind West Virginia's spread offense is gone, but the guy who makes it go is back for his senior season. Pat White ran for 1,335 yards and 14 touchdowns and completed 69 percent of his throws.
White expects to throw it even more this season, but it's when he leaves the pocket that he becomes one of the most dangerous players in the country.
``He's very unique. He's slippery,'' Pittsburgh linebacker Scott McKillop, a third-team All-American and the league's leading tackler last season. ``You've got to make sure you have him tackled because if you think you have him tackled he could be 60 yards downfield.''
McKillop and the Panthers have yet to reach a bowl in three season under coach Dave Wannstedt, but last season's huge upset against West Virginia has Pitt a trendy pick for a breakout season.
South Florida was the feel good story in the Big East for the first half of last season, before a three-game losing streak knocked them out of championship contention. The Bulls have quarterback Matt Grothe and sackmaster George Selvie back, and own a two-game winning streak against the Mountaineers. They'll try to extend that in the season finale at Morgantown, a game already being talked about as a de facto conference championship.
A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
WEST VIRGINIA - Key players: QB Pat White, Sr.; RB Noel Devine, Soph.; S Quinton Andrew, Jr.; LB Mortty Ivy, Sr. Returning starters, 8 offense, 4 defense.
Notes: Devine, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry as Steve Slaton's backup last season, is now White's primary running mate ... The offensive line returns intact and new offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, imported from Wake Forest, should provide some new wrinkles. ... The defense, which ranked in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed, needs reworking up front.
SOUTH FLORIDA - Key Players: QB Matt Grothe, Jr.; RB Mike Ford, Soph.; DE George Selvie, Jr.; LB Tyrone McKenzie, Sr. Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Grothe led the team in rushing with 872 yards, but coach Jim Leavitt would probably like to have Ford (645 yards and 12 TDs) take a bigger role ... Bulls have top three wide receivers (Carlton Mitchell, Jessie Hester, Taurus Johnson) and TE Cedric Hill back. ... Friday night home game against Kansas (Sept. 12) matches two of last season's surprise teams.
PITTSBURGH - Key players: RB LeSean McCoy, Soph.; WR Derek Kinder, Sr.; DE Greg Romeus, Soph.; LB Scott McKillop, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Wannstedt is 16-19 in three seasons at his alma mater, but he's recruited well and those efforts should start paying off now. At least Pitt is banking on that, because Wannstedt received a three-year extension the day before he beat West Virginia. ... McCoy set a Big East freshman record with 1,328 yards rushing ... McKillop led the NCAA in tackles per games with 12.6.
RUTGERS - Key players: QB Mike Teel, Sr.; WR Kenny Britt, Jr.; S Courtney Greene, Sr. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Who replaces Ray Rice and his 2,012 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns? Sophomores Mason Robinson and Kordell Young, recovering from knee injury, are the top candidates. ... Britt (1,232 yards) and Tiquan Underwood (1,100) became the first 1,000-yard receiving duo in school history.
LOUISVILLE - Key players: QB Hunter Cantwell, Sr.; C Eric Wood, Sr.; DT Earl Heyman, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Coach Steve Kragthorpe's first season was disappointing (6-6) and he spent this offseason cleaning up a roster with too many troublemakers. ... Cantwell backed up Brian Brohm for three seasons, flashing promise in a handful of starts. NFL scouts like his arm and size (6-foot-5, 236 pounds).
CONNECTICUT - Key players: QB Tyler Lorenzen, Sr.; RB Andre Dixon, Jr.; LB Scott Lutrus, Soph. Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Surprising UConn was the Big East co-champion last season with West Virginia, though that 66-21 loss to the Mountaineers makes it tough to take the championship banner seriously ... Coach Randy Edsall passed on chance to take over at Georgia Tech in offseason.
CINCINNATI - Key players: WR Marcus Barnett, Soph.; DT Terrill Byrd, Sr.; CB Mike Mickens, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: There's still a chance Ben Mauk, who passed for 31 touchdowns and is appealing for a sixth year of eligibility, could be back. If not, senior Dustin Grutza, who has 24 starts, is the guy. ... The Bearcats were plus-16 in turnover, tying for the national lead with 42 takeaways in coach Brian Kelly's first season.
SYRACUSE - Key players: LB Jake Flaherty, Sr.; QB Andrew Robinson, Jr. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Coach Greg Robinson must get the Orange to improve this season after going 7-28 in three years or he'll be gone. ... Ranked last in the league in total offense and total defense.