Fearless Picks: WVU - LSU

All of our panelists predict a close, competitive game between the Mountaineers and Tigers, but which ones believe West Virginia can pull off the upset?

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

A close grouping of score picks from a week ago meant there wasn't much movement in the standings, and also produced a close race for weekly pick honors. The trio of Bill, Chris and Brian had identical score selections of 38-24, and tied for the closest miss at eight points. Tony, Patrick and Cam followed closely with 11-point misses.

Much like LSU and Alabama in national polls, Chris and Cam again swapped positions at the top of the board, with the former now holding a slim two-point margin.


NOSE PICKING

It would be easy to jump on the picks of Greg and Andy, who both predicted a Maryland victory, but they came within an Eain Smith interception of being right. There's no doubt, however, that they happily traded the win for a correct selection.


Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 18
It has been quite some time since a non-conference game with this much national significance made its way to Morgantown. In my opinion, you have to go back to 1998's season-opening loss to Ohio State to find a non-league game at Mountaineer Field that had this much juice. College GameDay, after a lengthy wait, will finally be here. It should be a great day to showcase the passion of West Virginia's people for their beloved Mountaineers, provided no acts of idiocy take place.

That being said, the final outcome is what we're here to discuss, and I just don't see enough consistency yet on either side of the ball from WVU to feel comfortable picking them. Defensively, West Virginia won't be going up against an offensive juggernaut like the New England Patriots, but the Tigers are more than capable of putting a few points on the board, and are better than anyone in college football at protecting a lead. If they get in the red zone, they will score (40 out of their last 40 in the red zone I read earlier this week). If the Mountaineers can get to 30 points, they have a good chance of winning, but its still not a guarantee.

Pick: LSU 31-27
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff:20
I take pride in breaking down games and trying to analyze the matchups and the outcomes for my full-time job, but sometimes I just have to be a fan. I can't wait to set the alarm after a long Friday night of high school football to wake up, flip on ESPN and see my old stomping grounds showcased to the nation. I can't wait to hear the chants of "Let's Go Mountaineers" in the background while Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and crew break down the news from around the nation, and I expect to get chill bumps when I hear "The Pride of West Virginia" taking the College GameDay show to commercial. I'm not exactly sure how I'll survive the time in between the end of GameDay and the start of the game, but I'm already imagining flipping on ABC at 8 p.m., and hearing "You're looking live at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium." This is special, Mountaineer fans, and all of us need to enjoy it.

Now, onto the game. I've watched LSU a number of times this year, and I have to admit, the Tigers are one of the nation's best teams. This WVU squad isn't at that level, although I think the program is moving in that direction. The good news is that LSU doesn't have the offense to turn this game into a blowout. It's going to stay close, and the Tigers will try to win it with defense. If the Mountaineers catch a few breaks and come up with a big play or two, who knows. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" might be heard around the country by about 10:30 p.m., Saturday night.

There's something special about night games in Morgantown, and there's something special about being a Mountaineer.

Pick: West Virginia 24-20
 
Brian Jolliff Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 25
WVU's game against LSU is the fourth game of the season and one of the most important games in the last few years. A win Saturday night in Morgantown for the Mountaineers would be great on so many levels. On the other hand, we should not see this as a make or break game for WVU. It will be a very important home game against a powerful and talented OOC foe on the national stage with ESPN's College GameDay on hand, but failing a victory this weekend, this team's goals of a conference title and BCS bid are still firmly in sight.

Having that said, I'm looking for the Mountaineers to pull out another miracle in Morgantown this weekend against the second ranked Bayou Bengals. The odds are against West Virginia, few will give them a fighting chance, and only the Gold & Blue faithful will believe. Count me in that crowd.

Pick: West Virginia 24-23
 
Patrick Southern Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 30
As our Tony Dobies wrote earlier this week: "Wait, there's actually a game this Saturday?" And yes, it's a much-anticipated one; probably more hyped up than any WVU non-conference home game since the 1998 season opener against Ohio State. College GameDay is on campus. Brett Musburger will be on the mic for the play-by-play. It's a Saturday night kickoff on ABC. Everything about this game screams "BIG TIME!"

Thus, expect a fired up West Virginia team. But as Dana Holgorsen rightly noted, LSU has played in a couple of big games already this season: its opener against Oregon in Dallas might have been the biggest non-conference game of the year, and the Tigers throttled the defending national runners-up. The Tigers then had to go to Starkville and take on a solid Mississippi State team in a Thursday night game to open SEC play. They showed off their impressive defense and won again.

Thus, a fired up Mountaineer Field shouldn't intimidate No. 2 LSU. But make no mistake about it: West Virginia is good enough to compete with the Tigers. It has the talent and scheme on offense to test that LSU defense, and though seven starters are gone from last year, WVU's own defense showed in Baton Rouge last year that it could make life difficult for Les Miles and company.

But in the end, talent will win out. LSU just has a bit too much of it to overcome. There's no shame in losing to the Tigers this year, at home or on the road.

Pick: LSU 31-21
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 32
I find this game particularly difficult to predict. On one hand, the WVU offense seems to be much improved over last year, and the Mountaineers appear to have many more weapons compared to just a year ago. On the other hand, WVU's offensive line is still its weak point, and LSU, well, this isn't a good week to have offensive line troubles. That doesn't necessarily mean that WVU can't win. It just means it will be a battle.

On the other side of the ball, despite their talent level, LSU's offense just isn't that impressive. While people are quick to point out that WVU's rushing offense is #107 in the country, LSU is 93rd in the country in passing offense, and a middling 58th in rush offense.

The key, as usual, will be turnovers. LSU stands 14th in the nation in turnovers with a plus 1.33. WVU is tied for 57 with plus/minus of zero. A perfect example of the power of this is LSU's matchup with Oregon. The Tigers racked up a paltry 273 yards of total offense against Oregon, and gave up 335. But LSU scored 40 points. Why? Oregon fumbled a punt that was returned for a TD. In the third quarter Oregon fumbled and LSU recovered at the Duck 21, which led to a TD. Oregon fumbled the kickoff at its own 41. LSU scored a TD. Late in the fourth Oregon was forced to go for it on fourth and 5 at their own 41. They didn't get it. LSU scored a TD.

The way I see it, if WVU wins the turnover battle, WVU wins the game. I don't see the LSU offense having its way with the WVU defense. And while I think LSU will have more success against the WVU offense than the law should allow, I think the Mountaineers will have enough success to pull this one out.

Pick: West Virginia 27-17
 
Matt Keller Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 42
I like West Virginia's chances here. The Mountaineers should be able to throw some, manage LSU's passing game and compete on special teams. Add in that LSU rarely plays in nonconference road environments like what it will see at Mountaineer Field, and WVU has a decent shot. But, frankly, I expect quite a few pickers to select the home team, and with the athletic gap and line and depth differentials, that seems unwise. I'll take the odds and pick the Tigers to utilize their numbers and trench edges to win.
Pick: LSU 27-24
 
Tony Dobies Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 35
West Virginia has a huge opportunity on Saturday to shock the country. Oregon and Mississippi State weren't able to beat the Tigers, but the Mountaineers might have the best chance to beat LSU yet.

WVU has an interesting offensive attack that LSU hasn't yet seen the likes of. Sure, Oregon runs its offense at a faster pace, but I bet Geno Smith is the best quarterback the Tigers have faced. He, and WVU's receivers, can give LSU's defense trouble if the Mountaineers are somehow able to run the ball with some effectiveness at some point.

WVU's defense could also give LSU some trouble. Quarterback Jarrett Lee, while more consistent this year - still has the reputation of being an interception-prone signal caller. Going up against the 3-3-5 for the first time, it's tougher than it seems. If Lee throws an interception or two, I'd expect the Mountaineers to win.

However, LSU doesn't normally make mistakes like that. It will be ugly at times and highly competitive at all times. But, the Tigers will come away with the win here. West Virginia will still prove it can compete with a national title contender, though.

Pick: LSU 38-35
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 3-0 Pt Diff: 54
Has there ever been a more tension-filled atmosphere surrounding a WVU football game? With all the hand-wringing (and Tums-eating) about conference realignment, the fan base seems not to have noticed that LSU and ESPN GameDay are coming to town. This is a big moment for us, our chance to shine on national TV and show the world that we belong, that we deserve a seat at the table. So please, behave yourselves. Leave the obnoxious T-shirts at home. Wear gold. Keep the matches and kerosene in the garage. If you live in Morgantown, take all the furniture and other flammables off your porch until Sunday afternoon (else risk a $100 fine). Make a lot of noise. Rise to the occasion.

Team, this means you, too. Rise to the occasion. Bring your A game, the entirety of your focus. Play four quarters, not just two or three. This is your big moment, to show the world that you can compete with -- nay, you can beat -- any opponent put before you. Geno, Donny, Tavon, Keith, Najee, Terence: make sure your teammates understand this is the moment to follow your leadership or get out of your way. If you can do this, all things are possible.

Pick: West Virginia 21-20
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: L Season: 2-1 Pt Diff: 32
West Virginia is capable of pulling the upset over No. 3 LSU, which has won a nation's best 35 straight non-conference games. Still, when picking a winner, you have to look first at the talent level, and history tells us the Tigers – who have 41 former players currently in the NFL compared to 11 by WVU – simply have more talent than the Mountaineers.
Pick: LSU 27-24
 
Andy Easton Last Week: L Season: 2-1 Pt Diff: 37
ESPN's Football College GameDay visits Morgantown for the first time since it started the tradition of on-site broadcasts in 1993. WVU will join a list of 26 schools that have hosted ESPN College GameDy for football and basketball.

The Mountaineers'opponent will bring the nation' best defense to test Coach Holgorsen's nationally-rted offense. If the Mountaineer offense can produce for the entire game it may have chance to pull of an upset against the #2 ranked LSU Tigers, but if the offense sputters, it will be a long night for West Virginia fans.

Since Les Miles took the reins of the Tigers in 2005 their record against non-conference BCS teams is 12-1, and 2-0 on the opponent's home field. They are also 29-1 against non-conference teams in that same time frame.

While the game could be exciting for awhile, LSU just has too much talent and speed for WVU to overcome.

Pick: LSU 31-17

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