One of the more unique elements regarding West Virginia's Thursday night showdown at Colorado is simply the element of unknown between the two schools. When the teams take to the surface at Folsom Field, they will be meeting for the first time in the rich and storied histories of both programs.
Then again, each school does know a little about the other. West Virginia fans are undoubtedly familiar with the Buffaloes from their success in the early to mid 1990's, including a national championship under then-head coach Bill McCartney. More success followed with the likes of Kordell Stewart and Michael Westbrook leading the way on the field for UC.
And of course, Mountaineer fans and college football fans in general are familiar with current head coach Dan Hawkins's memorable rant on National Signing Day in 2007.
As for Hawkins himself, he's become quite familiar with the Mountaineers over the past couple of weeks thanks to intensive film study of West Virginia's offensive and defensive attacks. Not surprisingly, the key to slowing down the Mountaineers, he says, begins with keeping senior quarterback Patrick White in check.
"They probably have certainly the best or one of the best quarterbacks in the country playing, and that makes it extremely difficult because he can run or he can throw it," Hawkins said earlier this week. "He's definitely a dual threat."
"They have a prolific backfiled as well," he continued. "Where they're probably a little bit different is, you know, probably emphasizing a little more of the option part of the deal. They motion you around and they're extremely difficult. There is always an extra gap in there or an extra gap to defend. It's very difficult."
Hawkins is also impressed with West Virginia's senior-laden offensive line, which paves the way for White, tailback Noel Devine and the rest of WVU's potent attack.
"They've got good players. They're good," he said. "That's where the balance, most of their experience is up front in the offensive line. They've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of good football there. They're used to pounding it. They will get after you."
The difficulty in breaking down West Virginia, though, is not limited simply to figuring out ways to slowing down White and the offense. These 2008 Mountaineers have played just two games under new head coach Bill Stewart and his staff, meaning there is not a whole lot of film for Colorado coaches to view without dipping back into previous seasons when West Virginia's attack was somewhat different.
With this game being just the third for each team, any and all changes to WVU's scheme are more difficult to detect than they would be if this game were being played later in the season.
"Functionally and structurally, they're pretty much the same to what they've done in the past," he explained. "They have a whole new staff there doing some things, so I'm sure there are some changes internally, but structurally, they are still the same."
This game was put together exclusively by the powers that be at ESPN. The cross-country matchup is the second of three such games between the Big East and Big XII on ESPN this week. Louisville and Kansas State will square off on Wednesday night, while Baylor will visit Connecticut on Friday. The Mountaineers and Buffaloes hold down the primetime slot on Thursday.
Though the midweek games provide great exposure for both programs, the blessings are mixed over the course of the week.
"You know, there is definitely a tradeoff. There really is," Hawkins admitted. "Certainly getting on TV is great for your entire University. The other side of it is it interrupts your class schedules. I know we'll probably have 30 guys miss some part of practice (Monday), either the first part or the second part because they're not used to practicing on a Monday.
"It disrupts your schedule a little bit that way," continued the former Boise State head coach. "There are tradeoffs just like anything else. It's great for the exposure and it's great to be on, but you have to make adjustments."
All things considered, Thursday night should be a great opportunity for Hawkins to showcase the program he is building in Boulder.
"Those steps will continue to happen here, hopefully as we continue to get a little bit better. You know, every one of those games takes on a little added significance," he said. "Anytime you get an opportunity to get your product out there it's great for your fans, your alums and your program. I think it means something."
In terms of preparation time, Hawkins much prefers the wacky midweek schedule to being a day short in prep as was the case between Colorado's first and second games of the season. The Buffaloes opened the year on a Sunday night in Denver against in-state rival Colorado, only to turn around six days later to host Eastern Washington. When Thursday rolls around, however, both West Virginia and Colorado will have had 12 days between games.
"Anytime you get a little extra time it (helps)," he said. "It didn't help playing on a Saturday after playing on a Sunday. That was a short week."
Thursday night's game has been dubbed a "Blackout" by University of Colorado officials. Last season, Colorado used the same theme for a Saturday night game against Florida State. The Seminoles prevailed by a final of 16-6.
This year's Blackout may have a few other shades to it. As usual, a sizeable contingent of West Virginia followers is expected.