We kick off the 2011 football season with selections from our ten panelists.
PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
Who will be this year's titlist? This week's game won't decide the winner, but it could give the person coming the closest to the score an early leg up.
Nothing to complain about...yet. We're sure there will be plenty of fodder as the season progresses.
|Andy Easton||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
Thankfully this seven game, government-mandated series is coming to an end next season. The Mountaineers have won the five previous meetings with the most competitive game being last season's OT win in Huntington. During that same time frame the Thundering Herd is 0-13 against BCS teams, being outscored by an average of 33-10.
But these facts haven't hampered the Herd spirits, as many on the fans message boards are predicting a Marshall victory on Sunday. Most use the premise that first-year WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen hasn't coached a game, or the DE Vinny Curry will dominate the WVU offensive line, or since the Herd took WVU to OT last season that it is just a natural progression that they will win this season.
I tend to disagree with the Marshall faithful as the new era in Mountaineer football will start with a resounding victory over the college to the south.
|Pick: West Virginia 48-17|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week:||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
|Despite all the talk about coaches, players will decide the outcome, as they always do. Don't dismiss Marshall's skill level, though its offensive youth should provide WVU a solid advantage.|
|Pick: West Virginia 28-14|
|Patrick Southern||Last Week:||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
Mercifully, it's here. The hype, the endless discussion of hypotheticals, can finally die down and be replaced by talk concerning what is actually happening. I recognize my role in contributing to that issue as a reporter. But rest assured, I'm as tired of asking the same questions as Dana Holgorsen, his assistants and the West Virginia football players surely are of answering them.
To get to the matter at hand, there are a tremendous amount of unknowns entering this game on both sides. Reporters literally haven't seen WVU take a live snap since the end of the Gold-Blue Spring Game. Plenty has changed since then, from key roster additions at multiple spots to the simple fact that Holgorsen is now the team's head coach and not just its offensive coordinator. That has added to my own personal level of intrigue for Sunday -- we'll all learn a lot about this team at the same time.
Thus, this prediction is even more of a guess than it normally is. I expect the Mountaineer offense to move the ball up and down the field relatively well, but some issues in the red zone could lead to a few more field goal attempts than some (including Holgorsen) might like. On defense, West Virginia may have some kinks to work out -- particularly against the run. Doc Holliday is starting a true freshman at quarterback, and he likely won't make Rakeem Cato air things out too much as a result. Expect to see plenty of MU running backs Tron Martinez and Travon Van.
In the end, though, Holgorsen's system does one thing particularly well: it puts his best athletes in position to make athletic plays. West Virginia will score often and excite the fans at its sold-out stadium. The defense might bend often, but it won't break too much. Holgorsen will begin his head coaching career with a victory -- even if the Mountaineers don't score in the 50s or 60s.
|Pick: West Virginia 44-20|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
I hate this game. WVU has nothing to gain and everything to lose, both on and off the field. I hope that Dana Holgerson et alia understand the political, social, and economic significance of a major win -- not just a victory, but a big victory. If WVU is 45 points ahead with four seconds on the clock to end the game, it should go for a two-point conversion.
Realistically, Vinny Curry could be somewhat troublesome. We're about to find out whether Bill Bedenbaugh, he of the wide-open eyes and tough guy exterior, has been able to craft an offensive line that can give Geno Smith the 3.5 seconds he needs to get rid of the ball. If he has, then it's nothing but blue skies and golden memories. Even if he hasn't, WVU should have enough firepower to get the win.
|Pick: West Virginia 45-7|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
|West Virginia's talent should be able to carry it in this game, especially because nearly every edge Marshall had last season is gone. A primary issue could be weather. Showers could hinder Dana Holgorsen's offense some, and inclement weather tends to even up play. That written, Marshall's offense doesnt appear to be even solid, and the home crowd and lack of intimate knowledge of the Mountaineer offense should carry West Virginia to a solid win. It might not be the blowout many are expecting, though.|
|Pick: West Virginia 27-16|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
It goes without saying that in the long, storied history of West Virginia football, there has never been an offseason quite like this past one. Actually, there hasn't been an offseason that was ANYTHING like this past one. From conspiracy theories to the threat of conference realignment to the accelerated coaching change which took place a year earlier than anticipated, the program went through enough drama to make the cast of Jersey Shore take pause. All I can say is, thank goodness its in the rear-view mirror...that is, if you're the type that uses a rear-view mirror. I myself only look forward.
Finally, its time to focus on what lies ahead for the Mountaineers. And to be honest, I really have no idea. It could be one of the great seasons in school history, what with the new offense being led by Coach Holgorsen and his ultra-successful resume. It could be another 9-3 season when you look at the schedule and see national contender LSU, an improved South Florida, and a group of Pitt Panters under new highly-touted new leadership. As the season progresses, we'll get an idea of what the expectations should be for this team. The only one I have right now is that WVU will be 1-0 when we wake up on Labor Day morning. Did you hear Coach Holgorsen's comments earlier in the week about the lack of focus and enthusiasm that is evident when watching last season's MU tape? You can bet that he'll have his troops fired up and focused on Game One when they run out of the tunnel Sunday afternoon. Make no mistake about it: the biggest threat to the Mountaineers this week is themselves.
|Pick: West Virginia 38-13|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
|I usually try to take these seriously, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. But I just can't do it with Marshall. Every time I go to do my research, all I see is the ridiculous fans that claim victory from the almost-wins against the Mountaineers. I get a picture in my mind of the MU athletic director holding a press conference challenging the Mountaineers to play, when it was The Herd that backed out of the original contract. I can't get rid of the arguments I've heard from Marshall fans claiming that Bob Pruett is a legend, when his success in Huntington was about as clean as Jim Tressel's at Ohio State. I can't help it. I love the state of West Virginia, but I have no love for The Herd. I wasn't even happy when my wife picked green for the colors at our wedding. I'm in favor of the proposal I see every year on a piece of poster board at the Capital Classic to "give Huntington to Kentucky." So with that in mind, I can only pick with my heart. Fortunately, it's not far from what my head is telling me.|
|Pick: West Virginia 37-10|
|Tony Dobies||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
|In the last three seasons, a Dana Holgorsen-coached offense has averaged nearly 63 points per game in the season opener. I expect the Mountaineers to run up the score to increase that streak to four, and WVU will quiet any Marshall talk about this game being a hot rivalry. MU isn't a very good team, particularly on offense, but with WVU's young defense I still expect the Thundering Herd to put a few points on the board. Get ready, Mountaineer Nation, it's a new era. And, it's going to start off with a bang.|
|Pick: West Virginia 52-24|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
Questions abound for both teams. For West Virginia, a new offensive coaching staff,
lack of experience at running back, a very questionable offensive lineand a
defensive staff who must replace seemingly the entire unit. For Marshall, they're even younger, though not due to lack of talent. Truefreshman QB, untested running backs (Prop), changes at offensive line, suspensions, legal issues and changes on defense.
One thing Marshall has in its favor is that it faced East Carolina last year, coached by Johnny Ruffin, who came from Texas Tech and runs the offense he learned from Mike Leach and Hal Mumme, and Dana Holgorsen.
I'd like to predict the Mountaineers will score 70, just to shove a figurative fist into the face of some observers, but I'm just not sure we'll see that right off. I'll still go with the Mountaineers comfortably, but not as big as many predict
|Pick: West Virginia 38-24|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: -||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: 0|
|Doc rides back into town, but the posse is ready for him. Don't look for any of the drama from last year or the need for any miracle come from behind heroics from Geno, Austin and crew. This won't be an all out buffalo-basting, but with 2 of the best defensive players in the league and 2 of the best offensive players in the league, along with a strong supporting cast, look for the Mountaineers to open the season with a win.|
|Pick: West Virginia 42-17|