PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
The Orange Bowl made all the difference in last year's race, as Chris Richardson roared from behind to win a narrow race over Jane, Cam and Patrick. Patrick and Tony's picks of Clemson in the BCS matchup allowed the top three to pass them in the final week of the season.
Andy and Bill hope to rebound from a performance that was, like West Virginia's offense in 2011, up and down. They picked some upsets -- just the wrong ones to make an impact in the standings.
|Tony Dobies||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
|West Virginia has too much fire power to be in any type of trouble against Marshall. I'd expect the new defense to be tested a bit - and perhaps take some criticism come this time next week. But, the Mountaineers will easily do enough on both sides of the ball to earn a first victory of 2012.|
|Pick: West Virginia 48-24|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
Finally, at long last, the forced series with the martians comes to an end. No more will you cost us money. No more will we be forced to pass up opportunities that would be in WVU's best interest. And no more will marshall's extremely annoying band announcer shout and screech through the Mountaineer Field PA system. I wish I could say it's been fun, but it hasn't -- except for the final scores.
BTW, martians, Geno Smith is still our quarterback. You remember Geno. I believe he's rained on your parade a time or two. He will again this year. If the mid-week weather forecast holds, even God will rain on your parade. I'm calling a 66-point margin of victory, but run it up even more if you can, please, Dana.
|Pick: West Virginia 72-6|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
This game sets up like an upset special. The Mountaineers have been talked about and highly rated for the entire off-season, while the improving Thundering Herd are building depth and tired of hearing that they're 0-11 versus WVU. Throw in the fact that the Gold and Blue are breaking in a new defense and that this will be the last game in the series, and wild things could happen.
But will something crazy happen on Saturday? I doubt it. The fact is, if you lined up the WVU and Marshall teams on a playground and started picking players, Mountaineers would be picked first in many key positions. WVU starts slowly but pulls away in the second half.
|Pick: West Virginia 38-17|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
In the madness over the newness over the entrance to the Big 12, people might have overlooked one piece of unfinished business: the final year of a seven-year contract with Marshall that has gone all WVU's way, The Mountaineers must get off to a good start against what is expected to be an improved Herd team, but nothing of a national caliber.
WVU enters the season on the cusp of the Top 10, which carries with it the potential for a big payoff should the Mountaineers take care of business week after week. None of that matters, however, if WVU doesn't take care of business in week one. And top 10 teams don't struggle with Marshall at home. Complicating matters is the immediate off week, so WVU needs to make an impression that will stick even when they don't play.
The biggest question marks of this team fall on the defensive side of the ball, with an entirely new coaching staff and depth issues across the board. Depth issues are not because of talent, however. They're due to inexperience. And Marshall looks like the elixir for that ailment. The Herd finished last season 102nd on the nation in total offense, 100th in first downs gained and 117th in touchdowns. While I fully expect Marshall to be noticeably better with eight returning starters on offense, including true sophomore QB Rakeem Cato and Biletnikoff candidate Aaron Dobson, I don't expect them to become the offense of Marshall days gone by, at least not in the first week.
I also expect Marshall to really suffer from the losses of six defensive starters, including NFL draftee Vinny Curry, who helped the Herd finish eigth in the country in tackles for loss, 14th in fumbles recovered and 19th in red zone efficiency and turnover margin. I truly see WVU getting off to a quick start and not looking back. West Virginia just has too much firepower on offense for Marshall to deal with.
|Pick: West Virginia 52-20|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
|I'll keep it simple. Marshall is better than what people think, and WVU has a lot to prove to live up to its hype. This one will be a lot closer than people think, at least early on, but the Mountaineers simply have too many playmakers.|
|Pick: West Virginia 40-20|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
|Any season opener is an unknown proposition, especially against a Marshall team that is always motivated when it takes on big brother, no matter what the sport. This figures to be the best Thundering Herd football squad West Virginia has faced during the now-ending seven-year contract, so the Mountaineers had better be ready. But in the end, I see this like most of the other games played between these two in Morgantown -- Marshall makes things difficult early, but eventually WVU's superior talent allows the Mountaineers to pull away for a semi-comfortable victory.|
|Pick: West Virginia 41-21|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
|Well my fellow Mountaineer fans, we have a new season, new team members, and a new conference... but it's still football 101. This will be the final year in the WVU - Marshall series, much to the joy of many fans on both sides. Much has been made of how much better Marshall is than they were last season -- both by the media and West Virginia's coaches. Whether that is to fuel the fire of this rivalry or just coach talk, I do see an improved Herd squad, just as I see a much improved Mountaineer squad. So given that assessment, WVU should find its way through this game with few problems. Let's make it an even dozen on the Gold and Blue side.|
|Pick: West Virginia 48-17|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
It'll be hot, it'll be rainy, it'll be closer than many fans expect and then West Virginia will blow it open. Familiarity is breeding some contempt here, as though the game needed more. It's the same each season.
The Air Raid offense, while not necessitating the timing execution of the West Coast/Run-and-Shoot, does need a few series to settle in. Once that happens, the Mountaineers roll. Marshall's Raheem Cato, who led the Herd to zero touchdowns against WVU last season, puts a few on the board but struggles with increased pressure at times. Both programs' special teams units make a big play, and West Virginia uses a few timely runs to finish off the contest.
|Pick: West Virginia 41-17|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
Everything I've heard out of Morgantown points towards a big year for Dana Holgorsen's squad. The offense is armed with more weaponry than the RUF, and the defense -- while young -- will only get better from the beginning of the season to the end. That being said, this game always gives me some unexplained anxiety. My college roommate, as diehard a Mountaineer fan as they come, concurs.
"It terrifies me," he said of the annual Friends of Coal Bowl. "Everytime we play it, it presents the opportunity for my most humiliating moment as a sports fan. I want to hang a minimum of 50 on these guys and then never play them again in my lifetime.
"Those people would cut a finger off to beat WVU in football just one time," he continued. "I take an unhealthy amount of pleasure in denying those folks that joy."
Well said. While the Mountaineers might stub their toe at some point in Big XII play, they shouldn't have a problem in week one.
|Pick: West Virginia 45-24|
|Patrick Southern||Last Week: --||Season: 0-0||Pt Diff: --|
It's incredible just how different the vibe is around West Virginia's football program is these days compared to the not-too-distant past. The Mountaineers are once again one of college football's hip teams to follow, back on the cover of Sports Illustrated and back to being a sexy pick for a national championship.
Of course, things should prove tougher in the Big 12 than in the Big East, but for the first three games of the season, none of that will matter as WVU faces a non-conference schedule that looks quite similar to some of past seasons.
Marshall will certainly be gunning for WVU in what is all but certainly the last game in this series for the foreseeable future. And the Thundering Herd, overmatched every year in this game, has found a way to make the last two contests interesting to say the least. But West Virginia just has too much skill on offense for MU to keep up this time around. The 2012 season gets started for the Mountaineers with a bang.
|Pick: West Virginia 48-20|