Expatriate Bill Gleason solidified his lead in the contest this week, but he'll need another offensive outburst from the Mountaineers to retain his spot atop the standings – not to mention a West Virginia win. Senior staffer Jane Donovan moved up a spot, but has a good way to go to crack the top half of the standings.
With the help of the Air Force, Matt Keller had the pick of the week, missing the UConn game by just five points. That wasn't enough to boost him from the cellar, but he did gain ground on the field – a moral victory we can't overlook.
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 82|
Pat White. Steve Slaton. Stop them and you stop the Mountaineers.
Or at least, that is the conventional wisdom. On four separate occasions
a team has keyed its defense to stop either Slaton or White.
South Florida, ECU and UConn all chose Slaton. And after all was said
and done, White had the best days of his career either on the ground,
through the air or both.
Georgia decided to stop White. Slaton set a Sugar Bowl rushing record. In all four instances, however, Darius Reynaud sneaked around in the background with key runs, key catches and key scores.
It will be no different on Thursday.
Louisville can move the ball. Louisville can score. Papa John's Stadium has been a tremendous advantage for the Cards. It isn't going to matter against what is shaping up to be the best WVU team ever.
|Pick: West Virginia 40-27|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 94|
|On paper, this game figures to be an offensive shootout - WVU's run vs. Louisville's pass. Big plays figure to abound, but mistakes usually are the deciding factor in games of this magnitude, and WVU usually is good in that area.|
|Pick: West Virginia 38-37|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 94|
Before the 2006 season began, I made up my mind that I was going to pick Louisville to knock off the Mountaineers.
I had witnessed the Cardinals' high-powered attack in 2005, I knew they would be out for revenge on their home turf and I was sure they would not make the same game-changing decisions that cost them a win in Morgantown a year ago. Playing in front of a sold out crowd with everything on the line, I just felt that the advantage swung toward the team running an NFL-style offense with NFL-caliber players at quarterback and running back.
But as the season has rolled along, my convictions began to dwindle. When Michael Bush went down in the opener, I had to completely reevaluate my pick. Bush is, without a doubt, a special player, and without him in the backfield Louisville's offense is very different. Without a solid running game, I didn't believe the Cardinals could down the Mountaineers with a one-dimensional offense.
I was ready to cast my vote for the Mountaineers until I watched Louisville destroy Miami as if it were Marshall or Mississippi State. Even without Bush, and with Brohm on the sidelines for most of the second half, it was clear that Louisville was far superior to the Breeze from South Florida. Maybe, I thought, it is still Louisville's game to lose. That notion gained strength as I watched West Virginia's defense struggle to get off the field in the first half against Syracuse, and I was again convinced that WVU fans were going to be disappointed on Nov. 2.
Then came Louisville's meeting with Cincinnati. I didn't get to see much of the game, but I found some hope simply by looking at the score. The Bearcats proved that it is possible to slow down the Louisville attack, and if they could do it then why couldn't the Mountaineers? Next up was West Virginia's meeting with Connecticut and Louisville's date with Syracuse. While WVU dominated from start to finish and its defense showed significant improvement, Louisville struggled with the same Syracuse team that West Virginia had dismantled the week before.
After watching four quarters of the Cardinals against the Orange, my mind was made up. West Virginia, in my eyes is the better team, and barring a complete breakdown it will prove that fact on Thursday night. Look for Patrick White to break a long one, Slaton to show the same Thursday night form he displayed against Maryland and the West Virginia defense to force Brohm into one critical mistake.
It will be somewhat of a shootout, but the Mountaineers will come out on top. Couches will burn in Sunnyside and talk of WVU will fill ESPN's programming schedule more than The Andy Griffith Show fills TV Land's time slots. The 2006 season is the year of the Mountaineer, and it will continue Thursday night with one of the biggest wins in the school's history.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-27|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 96|
This is easily the biggest regular season game since the Mountaineers
invaded Boston College in 1993. That game propelled West Virginia to an
undefeated season, and what should have been a shot at the national
title. This game has the same potential, but unfortunately for the
Mountaineers the result will not be as sweet as it was on that chilly
November night in The Heights.
Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm is the best player the blue and gold will face all season, and he'll lead his hometown team to the biggest win in school history before a national television audience. Even with the loss at U of L, West Virginia's quest for a fourth straight Big East championship will be very much alive. They just won't have the unblemished conference record of 2005.
If this game were in Morgantown, the edge would go to West Virginia. But it's not. Louisville wins.
|Pick: Louisville 35-31|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 107|
The day has finally arrived, made even more meaningful by Oregon State's defeat of Southern Cal on Saturday. Here's a big shout-out to the good folks at Oregon State: Thanks ever so much for handling USC. No one benefited more from your victory than we did. Next time you're in town, we'll buy you guys a beer. All of you. Trust me, all of Morgantown was celebrating on your behalf Saturday night.
By this point in all the WVU vs. Louisville hype, there's not much left to say. Our fate is now in our own hands. Oregon State cleared the highway for us, and the Michigan vs. Ohio State contest, in its inevitability, will ensure that there are no more obstacles between us and that for which we have so longed. All we have to do is win.
|Pick: West Virginia 38-35|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 107|
Louisville is the only team on WVU's regular season schedule that can match the Mountaineer's athletes and speed in all three phases of the game. The University of Louisville and Coach Bobby Petrino have touted this game as the biggest game in the history of Cardinal football and have a "blackout" planned for the Blue and Gold and a national ESPN television audience.
Black uniforms or not, I just don't think the Cardinals possess the intangibles to top the third ranked Mountaineers on Thursday night.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-28|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: W||Season: 7-0||Pt Diff: 113|
West Virginia and Louisville are remarkably similar in the NCAA statistical rankings. Both teams rank in the top 10 in rushing yards per game (WVU first at 319 ypg, UL seventh at 216 – a major drop-off for an offense that is much better balanced), are in the top 10 in pass efficiency offense and rank second and fourth, respectively, in total offense, with No. 5 Louisville averaging 496 yards per game to No. 3 West Virginia's 459. Both are also in the top five in scoring offense and defense.
The few major differences are advantages for the Mountaineers. West Virginia has taken much better care of the football, and is plus-0.86 in turnover margin to UL's minus-0.43 per game, nearly unheard of for an undefeated team. Only Arkansas has had similar numbers and managed similar success as well. And there are major edges in special teams for West Virginia in terms of kickoff coverage and returns, as UL, which last week ranked dead last in the NCAA, is just 96th (22 yards per return) in the former while WVU rates 12th with 25.4 stripes per run back.
This is mostly useless information, as the teams both squads have played are not nearly as talented as the ones they meet tonight. It reads here that WVU gets a big play on special teams while struggling, as anticipated, with Louisville's passing game. If the Mountaineers can control the ball, limit the big play and get off the field on third down, they can win the game. That's easier said than done, however, especially in front of 42,000 rabid fans in the biggest game in Bluegrass State history. The Cardinals make enough plays through the air to offset West Virginia's ground game – and come out with a win, albeit a lower scoring one than most anticipate.
|Pick: Louisville 31-27|