PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
The panel finished the regular season with a bang, peppering the final score of the WVU - Rutgers game with a number of narrow misses. Chris and Taylor were just four points off the final score, and fully nine of 11 panelists missed by eight points or fewer. Can they keep that accuracy going in a difficult-to-handicap bowl outing?
There's not much to nag about this week, as the biggest miss was only 12 points. Even the race for the bottom has some interest, as Greg and Bill are separated by only five points in their bids to avoid the cellar.
|Keenan Cummings||Last Week: W||Season: 10-2||Pt Diff: 170|
It's been a wild couple weeks here in the Mountain State but it's time to focus again. And not to steal a line from our good friend up north, but I expect the Mountaineers to raise themselves up and put in a prime performance.
Yes, the NC State offense is good. But so is WVU's defense. Even without senior cornerback Brandon Hogan, I expect the Mountaineer defense to once again rise to the challenge.
In the end I think this will be a tough game, but WVU will score just enough to win.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-20|
|Taylor Jones||Last Week: W||Season: 10-2||Pt Diff: 195|
|Despite the numerous distractions made by the poorly-timed Dana Holgorsen announcement, I think the Mountaineers will be able to overcome the obstacles and pull out a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl. Bill Stewart is known for his ability to rally the troops during tough times and I think that the team will rally around him, much like they did in his first game as head coach in the Fiesta Bowl. While the season has been much like a roller coaster filled with ups and downs, I have no doubt that it will end on a high note with a Mountaineer victory.|
|Pick: West Virginia 35-21|
|Patrick Southern||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 165|
One would think all of the things that have dominated the attention of WVU fans in recent weeks would have some sort of impact on the Champs Sports Bowl. But as much as questions about Xs and Os matter, so does this one: how much influence will these external affairs have on the outcome?
Will the Mountaineers prove to be distracted? No one could blame offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and offensive line coach Dave Johnson if they were thinking ahead to their next career move, as they fulfill their duties one last game at West Virginia before being fired. But head coach Bill Stewart has said that those two assistant coaches are staying as professional as ever, even in the wake of some awkward circumstances.
Or will a Stewart-led WVU team, for the second time in a bowl game, prove extraordinarily resilient? This isn't the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, part deux. In fact, there's much less working against the Mountaineers this time around. Players will be eager to send out Mullen and Johnson victorious, to earn a rare 10-win season, to climb further in the national rankings and to hoist a bowl trophy over their heads. Mostly, they'll be eager to prove their doubters wrong.
But between the off-field distractions and the on-field challenge posed by a North Carolina State offense that is, by any measure, the best West Virginia has faced this season, it might be difficult to earn a Champs Sports Bowl win. The Wolfpack will take advantage of some key WVU absences and score in a way no other Mountaineer opponent has this season.. The offense might just play an inspired game, but it won't be enough.
|Pick: N.C. State 27-24|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 183|
|This game is as even as they come in the match-up department. West Virginia should stop the run, but could be susceptible to the pass. NC State throws well, can't run, and could be forced to become one-dimensional if Wilson can't make plays scrambling to move the chains. The Mountaineer offense is an enigma from week to week. If it turns the ball over three times, this game will be very difficult to win. If it has focus, ball security and can gain decent yardage on first down. Geno Smith should have the time to throw to receivers who should be able to get open against a weaker secondary. There's a lot of ifs everywhere, and the coaching situation paired with the loss of Hogan and Madsen simply cloud the picture. West Virginia has better athletes except at the marquee position on the field, and a bit more experience on both sides of the ball, especially in bowl games. State has a playmaker at quarterback, good wideouts and enough on defense to slow WVU if it hinders itself. The Wolfpack will score more than 21 points…how many can the Mountaineers muster?|
|Pick: N.C. State 24-23|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 187|
Hard for me to remember a West Virginia bowl game with as little buzz as there
has been in the lead up to the Champs Sports Bowl vs. North Carolina State. A
lack of ticket sales supports that claim.
Luckily, none of that should have much if any impact on the field. Players and
coaches on both sides care only about the results on the field.
Russell Wilson is likely the best player West Virginia has faced all season. Unfortunately for him, he has yet to see anything near the caliber of Jeff Casteel's defense. If ive learned one thing about the Mountaineers this season, its to never, EVER under any circumstances doubt Jeff Casteel.
|Pick: West Virginia 27-16|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 190|
This game is difficult to pick. WVU, obviously, has been in the news with the
coaching changes, injuries and ineligible players while North Carolina State has
had its first winning season since 2005.
Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson will be the best QB that WVU has faced this season by a wide margin, and he will be the difference in the game.
|Pick: N.C. State 24-17|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 193|
|No. I'll not talk about records, history, defenses, quarterback elusiveness, height of receivers, talking rodents, conference weaknesses, schedule strengths, dominating defense, explosive offense, coaching changes, player injuries, academic casualties, distractions, point spreads, records, bowed backs, linebacker corps, offensive lines, injured toes, broken feet, ATVs, press conferences, scoring defense, focus, matchups, or any of the other myriad of minutiae you can think up. It's WVU's last game of the season... last game for many seniors... and a chance to end the season on a W.|
|Pick: West Virginia 38-21|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 209|
When the Champs Sports Bowl matchup was announced, I liked the Mountaineers' chances. Although N.C. State has put up some big offensive numbers this year, I have seen good defenses control the Wolfpack. As we all know, WVU has a good defense. Combine that with the way the Mountaineer offense was performing down the stretch and the pitiful performance the N.C. State put up against Maryland, and the chances for a fifth bowl win in six years looked pretty good.
But that was almost four weeks ago. Since then, we've learned that starting cornerback Brandon Hogan will be out. That's a huge loss, especially against the Wolfpack, which would much rather go to the air than keep the ball on the ground. Then the news of the three academic casualties was released, weakening an already struggling offensive line with the loss of its center and causing depth concerns at other spots. The losses bring back memories of a not-too-distant past and the problems that similar missing pieces caused on the first day of 2010 in Jacksonville against Florida State.
The mess surrounding the transition of power on the Mountaineer coaching staff is also a worry. No matter how much the coaches insist it isn't a distraction, it has to be. That's all the players have been asked about in recent weeks, and there will be at least two WVU assistants coaching their last game with the Mountaineers in Orlando. They can't help but feel as though they were mistreated by the WVU brass, and there is no way they could have been totally focused on the game in recent weeks with their families' futures completely up in the air.
The last two times we've seen this many hurdles - the 2000 Music City Bowl and the 2008 Fiesta Bowl - the Mountaineers cleared them all with flying colors and put up two of the most impressive bowl performances in recent memory. But when you play with fire, you eventually get burned. It may be chilly in Orlando, but WVU will feel the heat this time.
|Pick: N. C. State 21-17|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: W||Season: 9-3||Pt Diff: 223|
The first bowl game I ever attended was the 1975 Peach Bowl in which Bobby Bowden-coached WVU dispatched Lou Holtz-coached N.C State. by a score of 13-10. It was a rainy night in Georgia, seemed like it was rainin' all over the world. Everybody sing along, now. The game was fun, the revolving restaurant on top of some Atlanta skyscraper seemed very cool, and the two coaches went on to become legends.
That was then, this is now. Anybody out there think that the Mountaineers have focused solely on bowl preparation during these last few turbulent weeks? I didn't think so. Me, neither. Let's hope Stew has one more legendary locker room speech in him and that he is able to unite the team to send out this terrific senior class with a 10-win season.
|Pick: West Virginia 34-21|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: L||Season: 8-4||Pt Diff: 208|
|This is the prediction section, but there is no predicting how WVU will manage the distractions that have come about because of the impending coaching changes. These distractions certainly could be a negative. But it could also force the team to rally around its embattled coaches. That happened for WVU not only in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl but also in the bowl game sendoff wins for Don Nehlen (2000), Bobby Bowden (1975) and Jim Carlen (1969).|
|Pick: West Virginia 23-20|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: W||Season: 8-4||Pt Diff: 213|
On paper this game seems to be one that West Virginia should win. Having seen the Wolfpack play several times this season, I feel as most do, that if the Mountaineers can contain Russell Wilson that the ‘Pack will have a rough go of it on offense. And I believe this WVU defense will be up to the task.
However, the $8 million dollar question is how will this offense respond? How does this offensive team remain focused when half of their position coaches are already out of a job and the rest of them may be as well? Sure the coaches have said the right thing, but nobody in their right mind can sit around and claim they have no distractions, as they face unemployment in two weeks with families to support.
On top of that we have the news that for the second consecutive year the Mountaineers will be going into the game without some key players because of their lack of effort in the classroom. The loss of Brandon Hogan to an injury was going to be a serious blow to this defense. Losing Joe Madsen from the offensive line that is already the weakest unit on the team is a huge issue. These guys should be embarrassed by their failure to commit to everything necessary to help this team on the field. Many people may not realize that classroom commitment is just as important as football commitment when it comes to college sports, but you have to be eligible to play. You let your team down. You let your fans down. You let your coaches down. The coaches who oversaw your lackluster on-field performances got fired. So while you're sitting around feeling sorry for yourself because you're not spending part of the week in sunny Orlando for free, getting an armload of bowl gifts and playing the game you love, consider that there are at least two guys with pink slips on their desks largely because of this lack of commitment.
Bill Stewart proved in 2007 that he could coach a team through turmoil and lead the Mountaineers to a big bowl victory. I'm just not sure this team has the marbles to lay it on the line when the chips are down.
|Pick: N.C. State 20-10|