PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
The similarities in last week's score picks, coupled with a close result in the actual game score, led to some very good results for the panel. Taylor took the week's honors with a seven-point miss of the WVU-ECU game, but Brian, Bill and Matt were just one point behind with an eight-point margin. Keller's pick vaulted him into the lead of the competition with a total point differential of 16 on the year, but just like the week's results, the standings remain tightly bunched. Andy, Cam, Taylor and Bill are all within a touchdown of Taylor, and all but the bottom two pickers are just two or fewer TDs away.
It'd be easy to beat up on Greg for his selection of ECU as the outright winner of last week's game, but he, like many Mountaineer fans, had their doubts entering the game. Plus, he signs the paychecks, so we can't pile on too much. However, when you rack up the only loss of contest, there have to be a few good-natured catcalls delivered, which we certainly did on the road trip to Auburn.
|Matt Keller||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 16|
|Bill Stewart's teams don't play exceptionally effective early. There's more of a feel-it-out process with this staff than the last, and often in the first few possessions that idea is not necessarily to score – though that's always the goal – than it is to find how certain players react to certain plays and situations and how the opposing team will operate its offense and defense. Stewart's teams also don't panic often when down – a mirror image of the head coach. That will serve the Mountaineers well this weekend, when the challenges of a better foe and more difficult environment pile upon those already present in every game. Look for a slow start, and maybe even a slow opening half as each team decides how they want to play. Auburn will take offensive chances, certainly, and so will West Virginia – but looking for many big plays and an up-and-down-the-field style doesn't seem likely. The longer WVU plays well early, the more confident it will play later. I like this team's ability and mindset. I'll stay with my original pick, though weather could play a factor in keeping the score low. Might well be off on the score here.|
|Pick: West Virginia 31-24|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 20|
|WVU is 5-0 in its last five meetings against the SEC. This one will be very tough, but the Mountaineers look to pull out a close one and continue its excellent start to the season.|
|Pick: West Virginia 27-26|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 20|
|Maybe it's my heart talking, or perhaps its the extreme dislike of the SEC that I have gained from living in the South and working for an Alabama fan. But for some reason I just feel like the Mountaineers are ready to pull this one off. Part of it is WVU's play last weekend. I didn't have to be there in person or even have a front row seat in front of a high-definition television to tell that Bill Stewart's plan is working and that Jarrett Brown is a special quarterback. I could see that just fine on the ESPN360 broadcast that I had coming through my television off of a connection from the computer. West Virginia will face a better Auburn team than the one it saw last year, and it will have to meet the Tigers in hostile territory. Sill, I'm going with the Mountaineers and making the prediction that this could be a special season. Auburn, here I come.|
|Pick: West Virginia 30-26|
|Taylor Jones||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 22|
|Losing Scooter Berry and Reed Williams to injury against East Carolina were huge losses to the Mountaineers. Not only are they two of the biggest physical forces on the defense, but they are both vocal leaders. Hopefully the younger guys will be able to step up and replace the veterans just as they did against ECU. The offense is continuing to improve weekly and that will likely continue. I predict a big game from Noel Devine and hope that Jock Sanders can continue where he left off against ECU.|
|Pick: West Virginia 24-21|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 23|
This game is giving me fits to predict. On one hand we have an explosive offense and staunch defense that appears to be everything this program needs to win this game, and handily. On the other hand we have silly penalties, bone-headed plays and eye popping turnovers that make this team look like a poor high school team.
It has been said that the Mountaineers were too jacked up for the ECU game. Obviously there was a bad taste left from the 2008 debacle, and the staff did a nice job of motivating their charges to jump on the Pirates. Maybe they did too good of a job. It remains to be seen whether this team can muster up that fire for a team it beat soundly last season. Certainly when they hit the field at Auburn and see the atmosphere, they'll come to grips with the situation. But if they wait until kick to get motivated, it is too late.
Auburn is good. WVU is good. Neither team has played anyone that will really show what either squad is made of. That is what we hope to see this weekend. To me it still comes down to WVU's offensive line. If Brown is given time to throw, and the running backs get some room, the Mountaineers certainly should walk out with a win. I'm going to take a flier and go with the heart.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-27|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 15|
Eighty-nine thousand fans, the War Eagle, balmy weather, Saturday night ESPN. Sounds like a lovely evening for an Auburn fan, but the Mountaineers will burst their little bubbles. WVU beats Auburn for the third time in two years (that's an inside joke -- some of you will get it).
|Pick: West Virginia 35-27|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 30|
While walking out of Cyclones Stadium last week after a 28-0 Russellville (Ark.) High School victory over the Dardanelle Sand Lizards, I heard one of the locals talking about the upcoming schedule for his beloved Cyclones. "These first few weeks have been fun to watch," he said, "but the boys will get their oil checked for real next week."
Ironically, the same can be said for these Mountaineers. While big passing numbers for Jarrett Brown and solid play all-around have made wins over Liberty and East Carolina fun to watch, West Virginia will certainly have its "oil checked" this week at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have been quite impressive in the first two games of the Gene Chizik era, thanks in no small part to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's high-octane attack.
By Sunday morning, we'll know whether or not West Virginia is indeed a well-oiled machine. I'm sure some of my fellow prognosticators see this as a chance to move ahead in the standings by picking Auburn. The only place they'll be heading is down.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-21|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 30|
WVU first road game of the year comes with several questions on the injury front. With Reed Williams probable for the game and Scooter Berry questionable, there is a lot of potential on-field leadership and experience that may be missing this Saturday.
The encouraging news is, even with those two out of the game against East Carolina last weekend, the replacements rose to the challenge and performed well. Look for Jarrett Brown and his corps of receivers, along with a complimentary running attack, to make a statement this weekend with a strong offensive performance and a repeat of last year's scoring totals.
|Pick: West Virginia 34-17|
|Patrick Southern||Last Week: W||Season: 2-0||Pt Diff: 34|
Two games into the 2009 season (and two games into the tenure of head coach Gene Chizik), some are already saying that Auburn is "back" among the nation's elite. The reason for that confidence stems largely from the performance of new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's spread scheme, which has largely made hay on the ground by bulldozing its opposition with a rarely-seen "power" attack out of spread formations. Indeed, running backs Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb have chewed up yardage in big chunks in both of the Tigers' two wins thus far.
But don't sleep on the WVU defense. Before the season started, it was seen as the linchpin of a team that had some questions to answer on the offensive side of the ball. While Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack struggled to contain Liberty receiver Mike Brown, it did considerably better against a tougher East Carolina team a week later. Those expecting AU to just steamroll through the West Virginia defense only saw the number "20" beside ECU's name on the box score from last week and didn't notice that the Pirates' scoring drives covered only 31, 26, 0, and 18 yards. They also didn't notice that the Mountaineers out-gained ECU 509-237 in terms of total yardage.
West Virginia is a considerably better football team than Louisiana Tech or Mississippi State. By the same token, Auburn is a considerably better team than Liberty or East Carolina. This game hinges on two keys: 1) the health of Reed Williams, who WVU needs to help stop the running game in the middle of the field; and, 2) the ability of the young offensive line to keep Jarrett Brown's jersey as clean as possible and give him time to progress through his reads. If they can do those things, the Mountaineers might manage to earn a win in front of what likely will be no worse than the third-largest crowd to ever watch WVU play a football game in person.
|Pick: West Virginia 30-23|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: L||Season: 1-1||Pt Diff: 40|
|This figures to be a very difficult game for WVU in a very difficult place to play (Auburn is 267-67-7 all-time at Jordan-Hare), but Auburn is still adapting to the new staff and coaching changes. WVU was in a similar spot last year, and it took a while to mesh. WVU seems to be meshing well at this point.|
|Pick: West Virginia 24-21|