PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
Andy missed the Cincinnati win by just six points to win the weekly prize, while Matt moved into second place overall with a solid showing. Keno and Taylor are the only other pickers with seven wins, and thus have a leg up on the rest of the field.
Bill's 41-point miss headlined a group of four misses by 30 points or more. Joining him on the all-miss squad were Cam (34), Chris (33) and Greg (30).
|Patrick Southern||Last Week: W||Season: 7-2||Pt Diff: 117|
Was WVU's offensive outburst a week ago against Cincinnati an aberration or a sign of a turnaround on that side of the ball? The results of this contest at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, against one of the better defenses in the Big East (and, statistically, the country) should go a long way in answering that question.
Louisville's defense is rather solid, and points may be at a premium, as the Mountaineers are obviously stout in their own right. The thought here is that West Virginia should be able to slow down the Cards' rushing attack (in the form of Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson), and U of L's passing attack isn't quite proficient enough to generate the points the hosts will need to get a sixth win (and the bowl eligibility that comes with it).
Charlie Strong is well on his way to making the Cardinals a contender in this league again, but he won't knock off WVU this time around.
|Pick: West Virginia 24-16|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: W||Season: 7-2||Pt Diff: 131|
The coaching staff can preach all they want about no game being a must win. This is. If West Virginia wants to accomplish much worth anything this season, it must defeat Louisville and set-up a Backyard Brawl showdown with Pitt. The Cardinals are not as talented as the Mountaineers, but do have enough backfield and kick return skill to win.
This game is about toughness. Can West Virginia stop the power running game and tackle well, two aspects (along with, as always, turnovers) that cost it the game against Syracuse? UofL is a stronger running team than Cincinnati and will show some power. That, along with the unpredictability of WVU's offense and the game being on the road throws this one largely on the special teams and defense. Win those phases and the turnover battle and the Mountaineers should win the game. Get punched in the mouth by the league's best running team and don't respond -- season's over. This one could be very close.
|Pick: Louisville 24-23|
|Keenan Cummings||Last Week: W||Season: 7-2||Pt Diff: 132|
|With a much needed win over the Bearcats, it appears the Mountaineers have cleaned up the mistakes and are ready to make a run to close the season. I expect the defense to pout in another stellar performance, and if the offense doesn't put the ball on the carpet or commit too many costly penalties, we'll be looking at two in a row.|
|Pick: West Virginia 28-14|
|Taylor Jones||Last Week: W||Season: 7-2||Pt Diff: 155|
|The Mountaineers are riding some momentum during a crucial point in their season. While they have struggled against Louisville in the past, and have obviously had trouble playing on the road this season, I think if they can continue to play with the chemistry they exuded on Saturday they will come out victorious. This will be the team's biggest challenge. Have they have truly grown as a team as they showed on Saturday's victory over Cincinnati? Or was that win just a fluke due to the bye week?|
|Pick: West Virginia 24-17|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: W||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 122|
|Both WVU and Louisville have had up and down seasons. The Mountaineers have been anything but consistent and the Cardinals have alternated wins and losses since the beginning of October. The key will be the play of the Cardinal defensive line. If they can get consistent pressure on Geno Smith, game over, Louisville will cause turnovers and win the game. If the West Virginia offensive front can give Smith time, the sophomore signal caller should be able to connect on some passes and open up the struggling running game.|
|Pick: West Virginia 34-30|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: L||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 155|
Four years ago, the Mountaineers headed to Louisville for a clash of the titans. Two top five teams, primetime in front of the whole country in a game with not just Big East, but national title ramifications.
Funny how things change, no? This year, WVU heads to the River City just hoping to keep its Big East title hopes flickering. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have certainly improved under the guidance of first-year head coach Charlie Strong. The Batesville, Ark. native has resurrected a program that quickly imploded in three seasons under Steve Kragthorpe's watch following the departure of ultra-successful head coach Bobby Petrino to the NFL. It goes without saying, though, that neither program is where it was in 2006.
Louisville is tough to figure out. One week, they look like a well-oiled machine on both sides of the ball. The next week, they're the exact opposite. Call it a hunch, but I say WVU's defense will make the difference in this one.
|Pick: West Virginia 20-13|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: L||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 156|
|As the regular season hits the home stretch, both WVU and Louisville are jockeying for position in the Big East standings. Each has plenty of goals still within reach, and the outcome at Papa John's will determine what goals remain and what become unrealistic. If WVU can slow the Cards' strong ground game, it should be in good shape, but that's a big if. The other key for West Virginia is – as always – to avoid the killer turnovers.|
|Pick: West Virginia 24-17|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: W||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 160|
Back on the winning track again, West Virginia takes to the road where it is a disappointing 1-2 on the year. Trying to pick a WVU score this year has been about as easy as predicting which direction a pack of squirrels will run. Will it be a concerted effort, will they scatter in 3or 4 different directions, or will they run straight toward oncoming traffic?
The defense played about as well as one could hope last Saturday against Cincinnati, and I don't see that trend going anywhere. The questions, as they have in the past losses, will come down to how badly this offense wants it and if it can limit or eliminate turnovers. Again, the ingredients for success seem exceedingly simple... play defense and hold onto the ball. The rest will take care of itself.
|Pick: West Virginia 28-10|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: L||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 165|
|I said last week I wasn't picking the Mountaineers again until they proved it to me. I'm tempted to go against them again and make them prove it once more, because it worked so well against Cincinnati. But I was too impressed with what I saw last week. This WVU team is starting to find its stride on offense. It's not going to be a team to put up 40 or 50 points per game, but with one of the best defenses in the country, it doesn't need to be an offensive juggernaut. If the Mountaineers can put up 25 points, they can't lose this one. I think they will, and they'll set up a classic Backyard Brawl showdown in Pittsburgh next week.||Pick: West Virginia 27-17|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: W||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 169|
|Assuming that the same WVU team that played Cincinnati shows up, this could be a great game. If the team that played Syracuse shows up, it could be a long and way-too-interesting day. I'm voting for the team that played Cincinnati.|
|Pick: West Virginia 35-21|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: L||Season: 6-3||Pt Diff: 183|
West Virginia struggles on the road. Louisville, despite this year's resurgence, has actually lost three home games (Kentucky, Cincinnati, USF) to not exactly top tier competition.
West Virginia is 83rd in the country in turnover margin (-.33) while Louisville is 52nd (+.10). Further digging reveals that WVU has turned the ball over 19 times while gaining just 16. Louisville has turned the ball over 14 times while gaining 15, so the difference on the year is but six turnovers, or less than one per game.
While much has been made about WVU's lack of offense (63rd in total offense), Louisville's isn't much better (54th) averaging just 17 more yards per game. The improvement in Louisville has been on defense, where the Cards boast the 15th rated defense in the land.
To me this shapes up as a defensive battle that will be decided by turnovers and special teams. While it would be nice to point out Louisville's 108th rated kick return defense, WVU's return team doesn't exactly strike fear with their 118th ranked return unit -- it's the movable object versus the stoppable force. Of course, WVU has only returned 27 kickoffs this year. Louisville, on the other hand, is rated 33rd in kick return yardage, though a mere 5.61 yards per return better than WVU.
If WVU wins the turnover battle, I don't see the Mountaineers losing. But I didn't see any way they'd lose to Syracuse or UConn either. It is going to take more than one game against the worst team in the conference to get my confidence in this team back.
|Pick: Louisville 17-16|