Fearless Picks: WVU - LSU

There's clearly some differences of opinion among the panel in this week's edition of the Fearless Picks.

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

It was a banner week for the crew. Brian and Keno had on-the-nose picks of the Maryland win, and every picker but one missed the final score by fewer than ten points. There was a bit of shuffling , but the race remains tight heading into a week four game that will likely separate the field a bit.


NOSE PICKING

Usually a 14-point miss isn't bad, but Taylor's very respectable 24-10 selection of a week ago resulted in a last-place finish. Hard to give her too much grief for a selection that nailed the final scoring margin, though.


Patrick Southern Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 32
A game in front of what some call the rowdiest crowd in college football is, to be sure, a daunting challenge for West Virginia. The LSU partisans inside Tiger Stadium will almost certainly make for the largest crowd a Mountaineer team has played in front of since the program's yearly match-ups with Penn State ended with a trip to Happy Valley in 1991. It's an intriguing statistic, but one that makes it sound as though WVU has not played in front of large, hostile crowds since.

That would be wrong. The trip to Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium a season ago, which saw 87,451 fans of those Tigers cheer against West Virginia, should have helped prepare most of Bill Stewart's players for at least some of what awaits them in Baton Rouge. In terms of intensity, Death Valley may be a notch above what the Mountaineers experienced on The Plains of Alabama, but 5,000 additional fans shouldn't make THAT big of a difference.

The outcome, as it almost always is, will be decided by the 22 players on the field at any given time. The thought here is that the loss of left guard Josh Jenkins is a big one. It's hardly ideal for offensive line coach Dave Johnson to have to make multiple position shifts before facing what might be the best defense WVU will line up against all season. The Tigers may well take advantage and bottle up Noel Devine and the rest of the Mountaineer running game in a way few teams have in recent seasons. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson should serve to lock down one of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's favorite targets.

Don't expect the Tigers' offense to do much. But expect it to do enough.

Pick: LSU 20-10
 
Keenan Cummings Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 35
A night game in Death Valley isn't the easiest of venues, but this game will come down to the offensive line being able to give Geno Smith time and create holes for Noel Devine, and for the defense and special teams avoiding giving up any big plays.

For as much as I like this year's team, it's hard to pick against the Tigers at night. I hope I'm wrong.

Pick: LSU 24-13
 
Taylor Jones Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 38
Obviously, the atmosphere when the Mountaineers travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU will be something that no one on the team has experienced before. This will no doubt be a huge test for sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, and I can't help but think that this may rattle the inexperienced quarterback. However, following West Virginia's victory over Maryland on Saturday, I feel as though West Virginia finally looked like a team that could truly put up a game against a powerhouse like LSU. After solid, but not spectacular, performances from Noel Devine in the team's first three games of the season, I expect a banner game from the senior. Just as the Mountaineer nation was able to rattle Maryland last Saturday, I think that LSU's crowd will have a huge effect on the Mountaineers Moreso than being the better team, I think that will give the Tigers the advantage.
Pick: LSU 28-17
 
Brian Jolliff Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 40
Last Saturday we saw a WVU squad put together a fairly impressive first half offensively. Defensively, the Mountaineers showed weakness in the secondary again on two long touchdown plays. But other than those, the Mountaineer defense played extremely well and accounted for the first sack of the season... actually eight sacks in about two quarters, with the first sack not coming until the 1:52 mark late in the second quarter.

The competition goes up this weekend WVU plays in Baton Rouge in what is likely to be the most hostile arena any of these players have ever witnessed. There are too many keys and story lines in this game to pick out anything single thing that could influence the outcome, but if I hd to pick two, they would be to eliminate turnovers and control the ball. Accomplish those, and a victory can be had.

Pick: West Virginia 27-24
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 42
This is a game WVU can win. If the Mountaineers can avoid turnovers and the lulls that have, at times, slowed an otherwise powerful offense, LSU is beatable. If a basketball school playing without about half of its team (North Carolina) has a chance, then why shouldn't West Virginia?

I would like to pick the Mountaineers in this one, and I don't really think it would be that bad of a selection. But a combination of a long road trip, a tiger outside the locker room, LSU's home night record and -- perhaps most importantly-- WVU's inconsistency so far this season won't let me pull the trigger.

Pick: LSU 27-20
 
Matt Keller Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 42
I expect West Virginia's defense to play well here. What I'm unsure about is its offensive line, sans a starter, facing a beefy, athletic defensive front. WVU can't play power football as well as it did against Maryland, and it might not be able to give Geno Smith as much time as he needs pending down and distance. LSU, conversely, won't shred the Mountaineer secondary as long as the odd stack can bring decent pressure from varying angles and corner Brandon Hogan returns.

West Virginia can match the Louisiana State in skill position ability in most areas. And it has some game breakers of its own. But with an average line in a night game in front of 92,000-plus, WVU will be pressed to win. Every mistake (i.e. turnovers) is magnified, and though this isn't the 2007 Tigers (or Mountaineers), the safe bet here is with the home team.

Pick: LSU 21-19
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 46
As one of my favorite locals back in Russellville, Ark. would have said regarding this game, "The boys will really get their oil checked this week." Through three games, West Virginia is as good as it can be. That's a solid start, but I think everyone would agree that it can certainly play better.

This is a classic struggle of picking with my heart vs. picking with my head. My heart says I'd love for Bill Stewart and company to march into Tiger Stadium, silence the 92,500 rabid LSU fans and fly back to Morgantown with the signature win of Stewart's tenure. My head, however, says that LSU very rarely loses at home at night, even with the SEC's best coming to Baton Rouge week in and week out. WVU's offense has been solid, with Geno Smith being nothing short of spectacular, but this is a completely different animal. West Virginia's biggest advantage on offense is speed. Only problem is it won't be an advantage this week, because the Tigers have more of it than any defense in the country.

Pick: LSU 24-13
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 50
In recent years, WVU has surprised more than one ultra-talented SEC foe, and year in and year out, LSU is as talented as anyone (44 former players currently in the NFL). But the home field advantage is huge for LSU. How can you pick against a program that has won 96 percent of its Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium over the past six seasons?
Pick: LSU 24-21
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 53
Based on the conversation among our fan base this past week, you would never know WVU is 3-0. In fact, I'm not sure that some of you watched the same game I watched. I have the sunburn to prove I was there. Do you?

Is this team perfect? No. Is this coaching staff perfect? No. All are humans, so will never be perfect. However, I saw a lot of improvement from Week 2 to Week 3. The emergence of Tavon Austin and Bruuuuuuce Irvin is huge, and those are just two of the positives to take away from the Maryland game.

Turning to the task at hand, The Louisiana State University (hey, if Ohio State gets a definite article, then I think all state universities should): The Mountaineers are banged up. While this is a matter of concern, the cupboard is not bare. If playing before 92,300 in person and millions more on the ESPN-of-the-week in the SEC on Saturday night does not spur (and bandit) the boys in blue and gold to their best game ever, then I don't know what will. And their best effort will be enough -- barely enough, which will cause my doctor to consider putting me on blood pressure medication for the rest of the season, but it will be enough.

Pick: West Virginia 21-17
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 54
WVU showed a big spark to begin the Maryland game on offense, but there are still some large areas of concern going into an experience that will likely make the most belligerent Mountaineer fan blush. The Mountaineer offensive line appeared to show flashes of promise throughout the day, especially in the final eight-minute drive where WVU just rammed the ball down the Terps' throat with Will Clarke. And they continued to play well long after the departure of Josh Jenkins. LSU, however, is not Maryland.

The Mountaineer defense also showed flashes of greatness, but was exposed for a weakness for the deep ball, especially if Brandon Hogan remains out for excessive lack of leadership and decision-making skills.

This game will be won in the trenches and in the battle of turnovers. On paper, the Mountaineers match up well with LSU in every single offensive and defensive category save one. That's turnover margin, where LSU is #33 and WVU is #105. The thing is, WVU has only turned the ball over one more time than LSU. The difference is that LSU's defense has nine takeaways versus WVU's four.

This game is too tight to overcome turnovers.

Pick: LSU 23-20
 
Andy Easton Last Week: W Season: 2-1 Pt Diff: 36
We all know how tough Milan Puskar Stadium is for visiting teams during night games. Well, you can multiply that by two for teams visiting Tiger Stadium. On a neutral field, I would take the Mountaineers,but with Brandon Hogan's status unknown and Josh Jenkins out, my money is with the Tigers.
Pick: LSU 27-13

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