West Virginia's 2010 football schedule probably couldn't set up much better considering all of the juggling the Big East has to do in making up the league slate, but there are always a couple of potential pitfalls and tough stretches to watch for.
WVU's list of seven home games and five road contests is fairly balanced, and offers good dates and a good spread of the most compelling games for fans and team alike. WVU gets four of its seven home games between Sept. 18 and Oct. 23, which is good from a weather standpoint for the home crowds. One of those is a Thursday night contest against USF, which, admittedly, cuts down on tailgating and the pre-game atmosphere at Mountaineer Field, but it's still better than one recent season in which WVU had just one October home contest. This year, the Mountaineers get three, and all of them in a row, as WVU hosts UNLV (Oct. 9), the Bulls (Oct. 14) and Syracuse (Oct. 23) in consecutive weeks.
The opening four games, which are usually front-loaded with home contests, show a home-road-home-road pattern, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Mountaineers get a traditional tune-up game with Coastal Carolina, but then have to travel, albeit it not far, to Marshall for what is hopefully the final time in the foreseeable future. The Mountaineers then return home to resume the series with Maryland before heading out for a huge road challenge at LSU. Hopefully the first three games will help WVU prepare for that contest, because no matter how good the Tigers are (and they're always good), playing in Death Valley is going to be a new experience for the Mountaineers. There's no over-estimating the impact of the crowd. Here's hoping for a day game, but in September, that's not usually the case in bayou country. Still, the run-up to that contest is a good mix of competition, and should make WVU as ready as it can be for another trip to SEC country.
WVU then gets an off week (Oct. 2) before hosting UNLV. That break comes at a good time, as it allows the Mountaineers both a rest and time to clean up mistakes. It then gets a winnable game that should let it prepare for USF – a team that has given West Virginia fits since its Big East entry. Opening the conference season with the Bulls might not be the best way to kick off league play, but if the Mountaineers can figure out a way to contain B.J. Daniels, it would be a huge jump start in the race for the league title.
WVU wraps up its three-game home stand with Syracuse, which, although playing better, probably isn't ready to challenge for an upper-division spot in the league just year. And then, things get tough down the stretch. A trip to always-physical and underrated UConn on a Friday night comes next, and the Huskies could well be 6-1 when they host the Mountaineers. Rentschler Field will definitely be jumping for that game. The term "trap game" might not apply, because UConn is a solid team, but WVU can't be looking ahead to November, or it will come home with a loss.
The UConn game starts a bit of payback for the three consecutive home games, as the Mountaineers are on the road for three of the next four contests. The trips are broken up a bit, however, by an open date the week after the UConn tilt. WVU will have that week off on Nov. 6 before hosting Cincinnati on the 13th, and that game figures to sort a good bit out in the pecking order as teams position themselves for a stretch run. WVU then gets a road trip to Louisville, followed by the day-after-Thanksgiving trip to Pitt and then the "championship Saturday" against Rutgers. While none of those games will be easy, it's certainly a fair schedule, and one that gives the Mountaineers a chance to rest at key points during the season.
The UConn date really catches the eye. Might the Huskies be a dark-horse contender for the league title? If Randy Edsall can find a quarterback, the answer if most likely yes.
WVU faces four teams with new coaches this year, and two back to back in the November stretch run against Cincinnati and Louisville. By that time, both Butch Jones and Charlie Strong should be settled in terms of game planning and preparation with their squads. Both are entering very different situations, with Jones facing the pressure of trying to keep Cincinnati atop the league, while Strong will get a grace period as he attempts to rebuild the Cardinals. Still, WVU's schedule over its final five games is fair, even with three of those contests on the road. It could have been much more difficult – say, if USF was in that Nov. 20 slot.
Does the league think it's going to be a Pitt-Cincinnati battle for the title again, as those two teams are again paired up on the final weekend of play (Dec. 4)? Maybe not. The West Virginia – Pitt game could also be that contest, but the now-traditional last Friday in November pairing for the Backyard Brawl eliminates that possibility. Should that game be looked at in future years as a possibility for being moved? Definitely. That game also conflict (again) with WVU's annual holiday trip to a prestigious basketball tournament, this time in Puerto Rico, where the Mountaineers might have the chance to face North Carolina.
WVU gets a home game prior to its only really short week of preparation. WVU hosts UNLV on Saturday, then gets USF on Thursday. That's important, because the time it takes to return from a road game and then get ready for a short week is often sorely missed. Being at home, the Mountaineers coaches and support staff can begin preparations immediately after the UNLV game. WVU does have the issue of traveling to Louisville then bouncing back for the road contest at Pitt just six days later, but that's not as bad as returning from a trip to UConn or USF and then hitting the road again.
Five of the eight Big East teams play all five of their non-conference foes, first, then wind up the season with seven consecutive league games. Rutgers, USF and Syracuse are the teams that aren't part of that pattern. The Orange, oddly enough, go out of conference for their final regular game of the season, playing Boston College on Nov. 27. Why in the world are they scheduling one of the Big East defectors? It could have been out of desperation for opponents, as they still have another slot to fill on their schedule.
Give Cincinnati credit for the best out of conference scheduling. The Bearcats travel to always tough Fresno State, got to North Carolina State and host Oklahoma – all in September. Pitt's games with Utah, Miami (Fla.) and Notre Dame also pass the eyeball test, but the latter two aren't nearly as good as their name suggests. Still, they'll get credit for it from those doing a drive-by on out-of-conference scheduling. USF also gets credit for not only continuing to work schedules with the other name Florida schools (it has contests at Florida and at Miami), but also in giving the smaller fry in the state a chance. It hosts Florida Atlantic prior to starting its Big East schedule.
WVU 2010 Football Schedule
Composite Big East Schedule