Scary Games

With the opening of West Virginia's fall football camp just two weeks away, questions about WVU's football fortunes in 2008 are cropping up more and more frequently. One of those that I've been getting the most (and which is the topic of frequent discussions in our user community) is a seemingly simple one: Which game(s) scare you the most on this year's schedule?

As is often the case, standard questions such as this offer many facets for discussion. I could take the smart-aleck approach (None of them scare me, because I don't have to play). Or the confident one (West Virginia is sufficiently established on the national scene, so no opponents are going to intimidate them.) Or the "any given Saturday" theory (Due to the increasingly broad spread of talent, there aren't many "gimmees" any more. And watch out for Villanova!).

Because covering all of those pathways would result in a column longer than the Unabomber Manifesto, I'll confine myself to a more straightforward consideration of the question, with the following notes:

  • A game can be considered "scary" due to a number of factors, including position on the schedule, the foe being underrated, a bad matchup for WVU's system/personnel, or any of a number of other gut-feel factors.

  • A game isn't considered scary just because the opponent is very good and stands a good chance of winning the game outright, which is why you won't find South Florida or Auburn on this list.

  • The game has to have a bit of an upset factor about it -- a foe that's underrated and lying in the weeds for the chance to jump up and bite gets serious consideration.

  • Picking a game for the scary list doesn't mean I think WVU won't win it. This isn't a prediction column. It's just my list of "watch out" games for the coming year.

    So, with that out of the way, here's my list, in ascending order, with a few thoughts attached.

    4) Rutgers – Rutgers lost running back Ray Rice. And that, like WVU's loss of Steve Slaton, is huge. However, it would be just as big of a mistake to assume that with Rice's departure, so too go the Scarlet Knights' chances for bowl games and prominence. RU should have the ability to pick foes apart through the air this fall, and if they can just forge a complementary running game from a quartet of backs with varying strengths, Greg Schiano's team might be much more difficult to defend than it was a year ago. The schedule slot doesn't do the Scarlet Knights any favors, as they plop down in the midst of a four-game home stand for WVU, but if the Mountaineers aren't ready, or are suffering from the mindless hype overload that will be created by media members looking to create stories around the Marshall game, they could be vulnerable.

    3) Cincinnati – Yes, I know that quarterback Ben Mauk isn't coming back. And I know that the Bearcats are coming to Morgantown. Those work against a possible upset. But what UC has going in its favor is its team attitude – one similar to that of West Virginia. UC has a swarming defense that led the nation in takeaways a year ago, and while it isn't likely to match that eye-popping total of 43, it will be a ridiculously experienced group that hits hard and tackles well. The Bearcats hit consistently and don't miss many chances to put ballcarriers on the ground, and any defense that plays in that manner gives a team a fighting chance. Force two or three turnovers, capitalize, and you can win any game. Cincinnati looks to have another winner in the form of head coach Brian Kelley, and he won't be backing down from any challenges, or satisfied with a respectable finish in the league. I like the way he and predecessor Mark Dantonio have built the program, but that respect translates into the realization that his team is capable of beating anyone in the league in 2008.

    2) East Carolina – Yes, the Pirates lost their premier runner in Chris Johnson, but they have a good deal of talent and experience returning. In past seasons, ECU has played well against West Virginia, but the Mountaineers' superior talent won out. While that gap might not have been appreciably closed, East Carolina is playing more solid football and has the defensive ability to cause WVU's attack problems. In the end, however, the road is probably the biggest factor in adding this game to the list. The Pirates, who figure to contend for their divisional crown in Conference USA, also have big chances to get attention-grabbing wins, with games against Virginia Tech, WVU, N.C. State and Virginia in its first six contests. I wouldn't be surprised at all to seen them go 2-2 over that span.

    1) Colorado – O.K. so the Buffs only went 5-7 last year. But in the third year of head coach Dan Hawkins' regime, the Boulder Boys appear ready to at least move up in the Big XII North. Were this game in Morgantown, or not following what could be another test road trip, I probably wouldn't have it on the list. But the combination of all those factors, as well as the altitude, could combine to give West Virginia some problems. If this game were later on the schedule (say after games against Texas and at Florida State), it would be much tougher for the Buffs. However, it sits perfectly positioned behind the rivalry opener with Colorado State and a tune-up against Eastern Washington, which should have them primed for a peak performance on Thursday night in front of a national television audience.

    I'm sure you have your own opinions on these picks, as well as some of your own you might want to add. Be sure to share them with our outspoken, informed and opinionated user community!


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