Fearless Picks: WVU - USF

West Virginia goes into Tampa with a lot of confidence -- are our pickers showing the same?

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

David maintains a lead, but there's a bit of a logjam between second and fifth places, as everyone there is in striking distance.


NOSE PICKING

Matt abandoned his vanity picks, but still holds down last place, while Bill's crystal ball is stuck on the same score for the second week in a row. Strategy? Perhaps. But not a winning one at this point.


David Velegol Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 60
Last year South Florida caught a tired and beat up West Virginia team. This year West Virginia is fresh, they've played two good road games and they are jelling. Pat White, Steve Slaton and the seniors have played in these hostile environments before. Louisville's Black Out last year was their home jewel, Maryland's night game this year was the game of the century for them and Marshall couldn't wait for the Mountaineers to come to Huntington. West Virginia has been the hunted this year and, yes, USF will be after West Virginia. However, the loss to the Bulls last year has the Mountaineers looking to make a statement. I look for this team to play at a higher level. Watch for an early big play from West Virginia to keep the crowd seated, just as it did at the Sugar Bowl. Everyone talks about USF's scary speed, but what are the plow horses? I like West Virginia's speed better! QB Matt Grothe is a player, so the Mountaineers need to keep him in check, as he can be an equalizer.
Pick: West Virginia 37-17
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 75
USF may have the only defense in the Big East which can match WVU's offensive speed. Still, if everyone's healthy, the Mountaineers will get their points. The key will be in limiting the Bulls' offense. WVU doesn't have to shut down Grothe, just slow him down some. Easier said than done, though.
Pick: West Virginia 28-21
 
Jeff Mason Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 80
The Bulls not only stay with the Mountaineers, but actually lead this hard-fought, defensive struggle as late as the third quarter or even in the early fourth quarter. But Rod Smith's hiring away from USF's Coach Leavitt pays dividends in this game as both the WVU offense AND defense are able to pull away and dominate at the end. A tremendous fourth quarter onslaught allows the Blue & Gold to erupt for 2-3 touchdowns while the "D" pressures, harrasses and sacks Bulls' QB Matt Grothe. The final result is a more convincing margin than almost all the pundits predicted. Mountaineers win under Tampa's Friday Night Lights in a surprisingly decisive fashion.
Pick: West Virginia 34-16
 
Andy Easton Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 84
Last season, after the Bulls topped the Mountaineers in Morgantown, Coach Rodriguez raided the Bull coaching staff, snagging offensive coordinator Rod Smith, and offensive line coach Greg Frey. Will Rodriguez be looking to South Florida again after this season for more coaches, or will the Gold and Blue figure out how to move the ball against the speedy Bull defense? My answer: In Rod I Trust!
Pick: West Virginia 27-17
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 85
Everyone has had this game circled on his or her calendar since USF came into Morgantown last November and shocked the nation. Many in the national media (and possibly some of my fellow BGN staffers) see this game as a stumbling block or potential upset for West Virginia's quest toward the national title.

I don't.

Having watched USF over the past couple of weeks, I'm still not sold on the Bulls. Matt Grothe is good, but the rest of his offense is suspect. USF's defense is fast, but has not faced an offense anywhere near the caliber of West Virginia. And, most importantly, the Bulls have never been in a game this big; the Mountaineers have. WVU makes a statement in Tampa: the year of the Mountaineer is alive and well.

Pick: West Virginia 42-14
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 95
The Mountaineers and Bulls both come into this game off a short week in preparation for what has been a tough battle for two straight seasons. USF loads everything into stopping Steve Slaton and Pat White and they've been largely successful the last two seasons. But several factors swing this game into the win column in my opinion.

First and foremost is the health of the team. Last season Steve Slaton's wrist woes were well documented, but there wasn't much press surrounding Pat White's high ankle sprain and turf toe that caused him not only to miss the next game against Rutgers but was still bothering him in a gutsy performance another month later in the Gator Bowl. Owen Schmitt also didn't play a down after spraining his knee. None of these guys are injured this year.

The second is depth. WVU was not nearly as deep on offense last year as it isin 2007. In 2006 when Steve or Pat or Owen were hurt, there was a big dropoff, except at QB when Coach Rodriguez finally went with Jarrett Brown against Rutgers. This year WVU has run three other tailbacks with success behind Steve and Owen, and the versatility this provides was not possible in previous years.

The third is an intangible that goes largely unnoticed. WVU played Pitt the last two years right before the USF game. Say what you want about not respecting USF properly, but the Backyard Brawl is the ultimate rivalry in Morgantown and always will be. But that isn't my real point. This year WVU comes in fresh off a meeting with East Carolina, the team that had even more success slowing down WVU's offense in the last two seasons. WVU has been practicing against a similar system built around similar style players with speed. Granted ECU isn't USF, but USF hasn't faced an offense the caliber of WVU's either. I see a tough game for a while but in the end WVU just has too many weapons on offense. A quickly improving defense will give fits to the nation's 70th ranked offense, despite the skills of Matt Groethe and USF's talented skill players. This game will be won in the trenches -- the USF offensive line is suspect while the WVU lines have been stellar this season. Look for the Bulls to load up to stop Steve and Pat and watch as Darius Reynaud, Brandon Hogan, Dorrell Jalloh, Jock Sanders and Noel Devine take advantage for big days. Owen Schmitt again has a huge day with no statistics to show for it, and the defense racks up another three or four sacks. If Coach Rod actually puts a downfield pass in the game plan it would be bigger, but he won't.

Pick: West Virginia 38-17
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 105
So now we've come to the most worrisome game on the schedule: South Florida. I've said for months that this would be our most difficult test and I have no reason to change that expectation now.

It's not because they beat us on our own turf last year -- there were some reasons for that: execution, some weird play calling, and, perhaps, a then-USF assistant coach who was more than knowledgeable about Rich's offense. That game is over and Rich found the most effective way possible to deal with the USF assistant coach who may or may not have been stealing our signals: he hired him.

The reasons that this game worries me are (1) 5 games in 28 days is asking a lot, and we have some key players who are banged up already; (2) South Florida is as pumped for this game as I've ever seen any opponent. My brother had a business trip to Tampa last week and he came back with all kinds of stories about the pre-WVU atmosphere down there, some of which may matter. (3) Jim Leavitt has done more with less in less time than anyone in recent memory. He's built a solid program that will continue to give us fits for many years to come.

However, having expressed all my worries, I still think the Mountaineers will win this one, but it will be one of those games that cause my doctor to suggest putting me on blood pressure medication.

Pick: West Virginia 34-24
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 113
Like it did at Marshall and Maryland, West Virginia will have to weather a storm of emotion in the early going on the road at South Florida. WVU started slow in both of those contests, and the Bulls are a better team than both The Herd and the Terrapins.

South Florida may bring a packed house to its feet once or twice early, but don't expect Jim Leavitt's squad to have the same success stopping the WVU offense as it did in Morgantown last year. Rodriguez has learned from the mistakes made in 2006 and he will take advantage of some openings in the passing game that will be left when USF stacks the box against the run. Will WVU get the respect it deserves from poll voters? Don't hold your breath. But the Mountaineers will get an important road win in one of the most-watched Friday night games in the history of college football.

Pick: West Virginia 34-20
 
Matt Keller Last Week: W Season: 4-0 Pt Diff: 137
This reads like a defensive struggle on paper. South Florida and West Virginia rate in the NCAA top 20 in nearly every major statistical category, and only Rutgers has better overall numbers within the Big East ranks. But the No. 18 Bulls have been helped by 11 turnovers in their 3-0 start, including five against Auburn, three of those coming when the Tigers simply dropped the football. USF doesn't have the athletic ability to match West Virginia in every aspect, and if the No. 5 Mountaineers execute and don't turn the ball over -- as they did last year, often deep in their own end -- WVU should win this game by double digits.

The atmosphere, being called the finest in the 11-year home history of South Florida's program, won't be a shock for a team used to playing on a national scale. A slow start could spell a tight game, but the Mountaineers have too much power in every area. The Bulls were fortunate last year. That won't happen when they have WVU's full focus and attention. Patrick White has a huge game mixing the run and pass and the defense interceptions USF quarterback Matt Grothe for his first pick this season. The Mountaineers roll into upstate New York for a match-up with Syracuse.

Pick: West Virginia 31-20

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