Biggest Fear: The Unknown

West Virginia might not fear Louisville's offense, Maryland's supposed mastermind coaching, or the wall that Pitt claims it figuratively built around western Pennsylvania in recruiting. But there is one major fear for WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez.

"You ask any coach what he is afraid of most in seasons like this, and he will tell you: Luck," Rodriguez said. "How lucky are we going to be? There is no team, no major team, that is going to go undefeated without luck. You could have injuries to key players, have things happen. We were fortunate last season that when we luck, we had young players who stepped and played better than expected.

"I guarantee you, and no coach will say this, but that's the one intangible you have to have. Will we have that this year? Will we have enough depth to overcome any injuries? We have short turnarounds for some games, and we don't have the total depth most top five and top 10 teams do. And when you run the quarterback as much as we do, well, you don't know. So will we have luck?"

West Virginia did last season, and it will need similarly opportune outcomes this year, when it is selected for its highest preseason ranking ever and chosen to be the Big East champion for just the second time (1998). It will need to avoid injuries, get turnovers at key times and dodge the inevitable down game, like it did last season against East Carolina and Syracuse.

"Hey, we fumbled, what, five times in the opener last year?" Rodriguez said. "It was a disaster. We didn't play well against East Carolina… (But) you can certainly set yourself up so that when luck happens, it is more likely to be good for you. But you can't control everything. How lucky were we that Maryland let Steve Slaton go? That nobody recruited Pat White as a quarterback? That Owen Schmitt was looking for a place to go and just happened to drop a tape off here?"

Very lucky, obviously. But West Virginia indeed did set itself up to be on the fortunate side of those turns of chance. It stayed with Slaton, as it often does with players. It was very honest with White, telling him that he would have a chance to play quarterback, that it was actually the only position WVU wanted him to play. It took a look at Schmitt's tape and didn't dismiss the hard-nosed bruiser simply because the offense did not utilize the fullback much.

Its rewards were a three-headed backfield that terrorized the Big East, then bit the Georgia Bulldogs in their home state. That combined for more than 2,000 yards, a Big East quarterback rushing record and a Sugar Bowl MVP. And that returns, intact, for perhaps two more years.

What Rodriguez is really saying is that preparation can lead to positive things. Quarterback Adam Bednarik was injured last season against Louisville. But the prep work WVU did with White enabled him to play at a high level. Freshman Jason Gwaltney was injured versus Rutgers, and didn't play the rest of the year. But Slaton was ready. The coaching staff saw what it had in Schmitt, and added plays for the fullback, which likely won the game at Maryland and certainly helped in the bowl win and the upset of Louisville.

"I'd still rather be good than lucky," Rodriguez said, "and hope you are on the good side of the luck."

Notes: *Linebacker Mortty Ivy is at 85 percent after an ACL tear in the spring. He is expected to be fully cleared by the fall, and should be at full-go in the first of two-a-days. He had not yet been cleared by trainer Dave Kerns, but is showing great response to any challenge of the knee, like lateral movement and stopping and starting.

"He is doing almost everything," Rodriguez said. "Not everything, but almost everything. It used to be if you tore an ACL, you were done. He has really responded well."

*Quarterback Adam Bednarik will not play for WVU this fall. He cannot even throw until November. He plans to appeal to the NCAA for a rare sixth season of eligibility. He is still a player on the team, and will continue to lift and workout with teammates.

"He can really help us along with our other quarterbacks," Rodriguez said. "Adam knows our system well. He is such a great kid. You feel bad for him. I hope he gets back, I really do."

*Wide receiver Brandon Barrett will, in all likelihood, not be academically eligible to play this fall. He did fine in the early session of summer school, but has fallen off and will probably not play for West Virginia this year, or perhaps ever.

"If he can't make it here, I'm not sure what else he can do," Rodriguez said. "But what can you do? You can't take a scholarship from a guy who does not have one, and you can't make a player run stairs in the summer, because we don't interact or see them. ... To be honest, I have not seen him around in a long time. But, as I recall, we have Brandon Myles and Darius Reynaud back, our top two receivers. I am not going to lose sleep over it.

"Whenever somebody asks me what my graduation rate is, I always say ‘100 percent of the ones who wanted to.' There are some kids who have it ingrained in them and you don't have to worry, and there are some kids you worry about. There are always some that don't make it, and it is unfortunate. But we are not an Ivy League school. I am not getting kids who all have academic focus. There are some you have to work with, and we give them all the help we can."

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