Way back before Al Gore invented the internet I fancied myself as a decent judge of West Virginia University's football team. I seemed to have had a handle on things like their talent level and how it compared to their opponents. In those days it seemed pretty easy to look at a Mountaineer schedule and pick the teams they would beat and those they wouldn't. Get lucky with a few toss ups and, voila, I could actually convince a few people I might know a little of what I was talking about.
Along came the internet and now picking games before the season begins seems more complicated than ever. Used to be I would follow the Mountaineers by subscribing to a couple daily newspapers who had beat writers covering the Mountaineers on a daily basis. Reading those articles, perusing the media guide and observing games every season left me with a sense of confidence that I had a handle on things.
I still have those tools to use, and I still use them, but there is just so much more information out there that the lines are very blurred. Go to any message board. There are basically three kinds of people there. The glass half full guy, the glass half empty guy and the guy who just wants to know what the score really is.
I try to be the latter, but there are some talented people on these boards who can put some serious spin on the current state of affairs. One can be easily swayed by some of the message board posters. Like I said, some of them are talented at writing and can make great cases for what they are trying to sell. Last year there weren't that many glass half empty guys around the message boards. All eyes were on Pat White, Noel Devine and a returning offensive line. That, combined with a schedule which didn't appear to be too demanding, was a pretty easy sell.
I reference this because I bought in to the hype last year even though I knew full well that coaching changes almost always cost a team some games. I said 10-2 in this space a year ago, but I also could see an undefeated season. Three losses, while I couldn't point to them, is what my brain kept trying to tell me though.
I was pretty sure 10-2 was out the window when WVU began the season 1-2 with losses at East Carolina and Colorado. I knew those early road games could be tricky, but neither figured into my loss total. Worse, the players and coaches seemed confused in those games. Things could get worse and that wasn't a comforting thought.
Well, the growing pains under the new staff were a little worse than most allowed for, but the good news is by the end of last season signs were evident that the new staff was on a good path. The problem is now the staff will have to replace White and the offensive line.
We all know that Jarrett Brown has patiently waited for his turn to play quarterback at West Virginia. I am pretty much a half glass full guy when it comes to Brown. He is 2-0 as a starter at WVU. In significant relief appearances in 2007 at South Florida and in the infamous loss to Pitt, Brown struggled. Still, Brown has a ton of talent and word is that offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen is the right guy to bring out that ability.
The line may take more time to develop, but the feeling is there is enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to allow them time to mature. The line and the kicking game are probably the biggest question marks heading into Saturday's opener against Liberty.
The defense is supposed to be a real force this year, but I'm not sold just yet. They do return an abundance of personnel from last year and there are play makers on that side of the ball. Last year Jeff Casteel's unit ranked highly in scoring defense and red zone defense. Those are great stats, but it seemed that the defense had a hard time getting off the field at times. They kept opponents out of the end zone, but the opponents were able to control the ball and the clock, thus keeping the ball away from White and Devine.
If this year's defense becomes more of a shut down unit, this year's win total could shock some people. With that, here is one guy's guess as to what may happen with the 2009 Mountaineers.
September 5 vs. Liberty - When Jerry Falwell founded this school, word was he wanted it to be to Baptists what Notre Dame is to Catholics and what Brigham Young is to Mormons. Not sure how that plan is evolving, but the football program isn't anywhere near there yet. WVU 45-10.
September 12 vs. East Carolina - Could ECU be the best team on the Mountaineers' schedule? Some pollsters think so. Last year's lackluster loss in Greenville should serve as enough inspiration to get WVU past a solid Pirate team at home. This is a very key game for a successful season. Not that it is critical as far as the Big East title, but it will be a barometer of where this team stands. WVU 24-21.
September 19 at Auburn - Okay, Auburn is down and has a new coaching staff, factors pointing to WVU. The rub is the game will be at night in a frenzied SEC stadium. This will be tough because even though the Tigers are down, they have recruited well, so talent will be on the field. Auburn 20-17.
October 1 vs. Colorado - The Buffaloes are supposed to be improved this year. Traveling halfway across the country to play a Thursday night game in Morgantown is not the best way to pick up a win. WVU 27-20.
October 10 at Syracuse - Syracuse has fallen on hard times, so much so that a former Duke point guard has been named their starting quarterback. Greg Paulus took one on the chin from Joe Mazzulla in the Mountaineers' NCAA win over Duke in 2007, here's to Reed Williams, J.T. Thomas and company introducing themselves to Paulus. WVU 31-14.
October 17 vs. Marshall - Hopefully the Mountaineers remember to get up for every game. Teams like Syracuse and Marshall need only a little opening to spring an upset. Not here though. WVU 28-7.
October 24 vs. Connecticut - Another game where if West Virginia takes care of business, the game falls into the win category. Defense and offense could shine in this one because if this team is going to find its stride, this could be the week. WVU 44-17.
October 30 at South Florida - Probably like the rest of the league couldn't wait for Pat White to leave WVU, many are wondering how much longer Matt Grothe will be at USF. Well this should be it for Grothe, and George Selvie returns on the defensive line. It is a Friday night game and the Bulls will be tough. USF 21-17.
November 7 vs. Louisville - The Cardinals football program has fallen on hard times. Not sure when they will be back, but it won't likely be by November of this year. WVU 37-10.
November 13 at Cincinnati - Another Friday night game on the road and this time at defending league champion Cincinnati. The Bearcats return the pitch and catch combo of quarterback Tony Pike and receiver Marty Gilyard which is formidable. Cincinnati has been getting much love from the media despite losing 10 starters from last year. Interesting matchup indeed. Cincinnati 31-28.
November 27 vs. Pitt - The Panthers have won the last two in this series. Who knows what will be at stake in this game on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but Pitt is the pre-season favorite to win the Big East, so it will likely be a huge game for at least one team. WVU 31-21.
December 5 at Rutgers - Good chance it will be a cold day in Jersey for the final regular season game. Rutgers is another team getting plenty of media love despite heavy losses to graduation. Not sure it is justified. It's still August, but the choice now is WVU 27-24.
So the call here is a 9-3 regular season with a 5-2 conference record which should at least be good enough for a tie for first place in the Big East.