Conversations From the Car

I want to start off this week with a quote that every good coach has used at some point in his career. "Excuses are for losers."

Nowhere does this fit better than the Rutgers football program. Since returning from Piscataway last Saturday, all I have heard from Scarlet Knights fans is excuses for why only 21,000 fans showed up for a major Big East game last Saturday at Rutgers Stadium.

"It was pouring the rain. There are better things to do in the New York/New Jersey area. My pinkie toe hurt. My mom's friend's cousin's sister stubbed her finger in a pickup basketball game and I wanted to check on her."

Let's get one thing straight. If Rutgers is one of the teams we are counting on to help the Big East regain its national position, there have to be more than 21,000 bodies in the seats for a big conference game, especially when the Knights actually have a chance to appear in a bowl game for the first time since gas prices were below a dollar per gallon.

Even during a monsoon WVU would have had more than 21,000 people in attendance. Even if Wofford would have been the opponent. As far as the better things to do approach, I don't see Southern California having any problem putting fans in the stands. Are you trying to tell me there is nothing else to do there?

To put it plain and simply, no matter what sideline they stand on, what music they pump in over the loudspeaker or how much hype comes out of its sports information office, Rutgers is still Rutgers. If the new Big East is counting on the Scarlet Knights, the conference may be in trouble.

That brings me to my next point. It is obvious that the product that RU is putting on the field is a little better than some of the teams of the past, but I want to know how long that will last. The real question is, is Rutgers really any better overall or are they simply a typical Rutgers team with Brian Leonard?

There is no question that Leonard is a special player. In fact, he may be the best the Mountaineers see all season. But what would the Knights be like without him? At least 50 percent of Rutgers' offensive attack is centered around the big fullback, and there is little question who is getting the ball when Greg Schiano's club needs to make a play.

Leonard continually makes those plays, and thus Rutgers is winning a few games and is more competitive in the games it loses. However, it takes more than one good player to turn a team around, and I would not be surprised to see the Scarlet Knights fall right back into the tank when Leonard leaves.

Enough about last week's game, though. It's time to look ahead. We all know that Louisville is very good. We all know that the Big East has to count on the Cardinals to keep winning to help out the conference, but we also know that West Virginia needs this game if it hopes to prove that the Big East title does indeed have to come through Morgantown.

With that said, it is time for this love-fest between the Mountaineers and the Cardinals to stop. We can still keep our fingers crossed that they win the rest of their games after they come to Morgantown, but we don't have to treat them like the sister of a girl we are trying to impress.

As Chris Richardson reminded me on the way home from New Jersey, Louisville is the reason we did not make a trip to the Final Four this March.

Where am I going with this? What the new Big East needs is not a bunch of hugs and pats on the back, but a couple of strong, bitter rivalries.

What makes watching a Virginia Tech/West Virginia game or a Backyard Brawl special? It is the fact that the teams really don't like each other. That is also what makes the games appealing to television viewers who don't really have a stock in either team.

What the Big East needs to survive and make itself attractive to college football is some new rivalries that can catch the average fan's attention. What better place to start than West Virginia/Louisville?

This not only is the school that knocked the Mountaineers out of the NCAA tournament, it is also the school that was confident that it could just waltz right in and dominate in a conference where WVU has been scratching and clawing its way to the top for years.

I don't know about anybody else, but if I had fought my way up the ladder to earn a position in the workplace and some new kid with some fancy credentials came in and try to take my spot on his very first day, I would not just step aside and say, "Hey, good luck. We really need you to make our company strong."

Why should it be any different in the Big East? West Virginia fans need to put the same emotion behind this contest as they did when Vick and his group of bandits rolled into Mountaineer Field. The WVU faithful need to be there in full force when the team rolls in to greet them coming off the bus — this game is at 3:30 so there should be no excuses — and they need to pack the stadium early and they need to be loud and proud right from the opening kickoff. The top spot in the Big East should not be surrendered without a fight.

Finally, I want to touch on the 3-3 stack defense that has been debated so heavily in the past couple of weeks.

Folks, football has been around since the 1800s. There has been more than enough time to come up with every new trick in the book. No offense or defense is going to reinvent the game now.

Despite what many may think, that is not what the West Virginia staff is trying to do with its unconventional attack. It is simply trying to put its best athletes on the field in the best position to make plays.

When WVU's defense was rated first in the country after the first couple of weeks, the defense was great. But after the loss to Virginia Tech it suddenly became the worst scheme in the history of organized sports.

The defense did not change. What changed was the competition. Observers can try to analyze the 3-3 defense or the spread offense all they want, but the simple fact is West Virginia has had better athletes than its opponents in every game but one — Virginia Tech. When the Mountaineers had the better talent they won. When they were outmatched in the talent area they lost.

This scheme can work as well as any other, and it should not be debated every time West Virginia loses to a better team.


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