|History poses a challenge for WVa, Stewart|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 29 August 2008 11:36|
Bobby Bowden did it in 1970 and Dudley DeGroot before him, in 1948.
Program patriarch Don Nehlen? Nope. Rich Rodriguez, who turned the Mountaineers into national-title contenders? He didn't either.
Stewart's in a good spot to join Bowden and DeGroot. And he'll start with Championship Subdivision team Villanova.
``If you want to get to a 13th game, you better take care of Game 1,'' Stewart said.
Of course, there's no assumptions of a fast start. The last time the Wildcats came to town, they left with a 41-36 upset in 1977.
No. 8 West Virginia is a far different program than the independent it was 31 years ago. The Mountaineers are ranked in the preseason Top 10 for the third straight time and are the favorite to win a fifth Big East championship in six years, coming off a thrashing of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, when Stewart was interim coach.
Three years after beating the Mountaineers, Villanova abandoned its football program for economic reasons. It was resurrected in 1985 by current coach Andy Talley.
He's compiled 17 winning seasons on the FCS level but has never faced a Top 25 team. And his players have likely never seen the speed and escapability of a quarterback like West Virginia's Pat White or the taunts and screams of 60,000 Mountaineer fans.
``It will probably be the most hectic atmosphere we've ever been in,'' Talley said. ``Everyone tells me this is the venue that is maybe the toughest in the country to play. I don't think we can simulate what's going to go on down there.
``Our players understand that we're in harm's way in this game.''
As tough as an opponent might think it is to play in Morgantown, the Mountaineers haven't gone unbeaten at home over the course of a season in 15 years. Pittsburgh ended their national title hopes in the 2007 regular-season finale.
Stewart would prefer not to play lower-tiered teams like Villanova, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, though the schools' basketball teams both compete in the Big East.
An apparent lack of interest from non-Big East FBS schools close to Morgantown leaves the Mountaineers little choice.
Future home schedules include the likes of tiny Liberty next year, Coastal Carolina, Michigan State and Maryland in 2010, a matchup with Florida State in 2012 and several holes in between.
``I can't get border states to play us,'' Stewart said. ``We've tried. When you get good, it's hard to get a game. It really is. I don't want to fly all over the country where our fans can't drive.''
So the Stewart era makes its regular-season debut against a Villanova team that returns 17 starters. Quarterback Antwon Young is coming off a season-ending knee injury. He averaged 199 passing yards and threw for 14 touchdowns in just six games. Leading rusher Matt Dicken is gone, replaced by two backs who combined for 302 yards.
``This team is supposed to make a run at their conference. I'm hoping they do,'' Stewart said. ``I wish them nothing but the best. But I hope they don't begin until September.''