WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

Chippewas off the old block

You’ll remember when West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez was asked following the Rutgers game whether or not the Scarlet Knights had somehow acquired some knowledge about the how the Mountaineers signal in their plays on offense. Rodriguez said a sideline report during the game was inaccurate, but that Rutgers had done a little homework.

“They obviously talked to maybe a former coach or (did) something back in the summer, which they’re allowed to do,” Rodriguez said. “We weren’t overly concerned. We were prepared for all scenarios.”

One name you can remove from the list of conspirators is Butch Jones. Jones coached WVU’s receivers from 2005-06 before returning to Central Michigan as the head coach this season. Jones, who was with the Chippewas from 1998-2004, has CMU rolling along and on Tuesday they won the Mid-American Conference’s West Division title.

Besides it being an exciting rivalry win, the victory gives the Chippewas their second consecutive Mid-American Conference West Division title and stamps a ticket to the MAC championship game at Ford Field on Dec. 1.

“I though it was a great college football game,” CMU coach Butch Jones said. “It was a great game between rivals. I can’t say enough about Western Michigan, but I also can’t say enough about our kids. They played with a lot of heart tonight.”

True, Jones coached at Rutgers from 1990-92, but he overlapped with no one on the current staff, and on Monday Rodriguez was a little excited about the Tuesday night game on ESPN2. Of more concern, perhaps, is that Jones coached a season at Central Michigan under Cincinati’s current head coach, Brian Kelly, and the Nov. 17 game between WVU and Cincinnati could have significant implications.

Just sayin’… 

Vegas, baby, Vegas!

West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins said at his meeting with the media today the Mountaineers will play in the Las Vegas Classic next season. WVU will be joined in the field by Kentucky, Iowa and, believe it or not, Kansas State. Huggins coached the Wildcats last season, when they won the Las Vegas Holiday Classic.

Delaware State, Southeast Missouri, Oakland and Longwood will also play in the Invitational, and if you’re eager, you can get your tickets at the bottom of this page.

“That’s a great field. We’re looking forward to that like we’re locking forward to this year when we go play Tennessee and either Texas or New Mexico State (in the Legends Classic). You get to play quality opponents and I think that tells you a lot about your team. Plus, it’s on a neutral site, which is very similar to what the postseason is.”

Huggins’ reunion tour next season will also include a visit with Andy Kennedy and his Mississippi team. Kennedy replaced Huggins at Cincinnati on an interim basis. The Mountaineers and the Rebels will play a home-and-home series beginning next season.

Finally, a place for rumors

Who doesn’t love gossip? Certainly not the person who starts the gossip. And so it is that some recent conversations and e-mails have tipped me off to a few things I cannot prove, but just have to share. The teases come not from coaches or players, whose trust I cannot betray and who should never be confused as the source of this silliness, but from far less credible places. Nevertheless, if air powers windmills, why can’t hot air power rumor mills?

> Morgantown is becoming a pretty cool place to watch sporting events. You might see a Primetime celebrity on the sideline Thursday night … and here’s hoping Noel Devine has a few chances to high-step. Speaking of guests, grab your thermometers if you head to the Coliseum this season. There’s a chance it might reach 98 Degrees.

> That Gold Rush football coach Rich Rodriguez has been talking about could carry down to the field, as well.

> The men’s basketball team scrimmaged Virginia in the Coliseum two weekends ago and let’s just say the Mountaineers acted in a very cavalier way. Final score wasn’t even close.

> There is some concern about where West Virginia’s top college recruit will play. The Mountaineers are curious, too.

> There is a scramble to get the most possible attention on the WVU-Connecticut football game. Provided both teams do their part, the solution could be as easy as A-B-C.

I’ve spent a lot of time in press boxes above fields on which West Virginia has played football games the past two years trying to think of ways to describe and define the team and the games they’ve played. It’s a team effort, really, and sometimes more entertaining than the games. We media often have to endure boorish blowouts and games that are no longer interesting after halftime. Sometimes our ideas make it into print and sometimes they probably should have never made it out of our mouths.

Today, though, I must admit I’m a little jealous of Louisville Coach Steve Kragthorpe. Really, how have we watched White and Slaton and Devine and Reynaud and all the others without coming up with this?

University of Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe thinks there should be a new statistic invented for West Virginia’s offensive stars.

“People talk about yards after contact,” Kragthorpe said today. “With these guys, it’s yards after juke. They juke a lot of guys and make plays not just by breaking tackles, but by creating vapor tackles

Stay classy, South Florida

So you’ve come here before and seen South Florida’s players and coaches say some pretty bizarre things, first after beating West Virginia then after stomping juggernaut Central Florida. Well, that team that was once 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation — no, that really did happen. This year, too! — is 6-3 and the Bulls have lost more than three straight games.

Gone is the silly sense of entitlement they once had that empowered them to say such things. Now they’re a little bitter things are no longer going their way, a problem that’s obviously remedied by cursing at officials.

Matt Grothe’s pass to Jessie Hester Jr. as time expired bounced off of Hester’s chest in the back of the end zone. At first glance, it appeared that Cincinnati strong safety Anthony Williams might have committed a pass-interference penalty, and USF players and coaches were incensed that no foul was called.

“It seems like there were some things going on back there,” Leavitt said. “It seems like it wasn’t really a clean play.”

Fullback Mike Padilla cursed at referee Randy Smith as Smith ran off the field and other USF players shook their heads as they walked toward their locker room.

Though it’s certainly changed, the season is not over for the Bulls, who still must be at least slightly admired for the way they’ve advanced as a program in just 11 years of existence. The party, though, is finished and now might be a good time to learn a few things about how to operate in a more respectable manner.

True story: According to sources close to the USF program and a representative from UConn’s athletic department, USF coach/sore loser Jim Leavitt instructed his players not to talk to members of the media following last week’s loss to UConn. It got so ridiculous that one Tampa sports writer, waiting outside the locker room to interview players, was told by a uniformed police officer, “If you don’t step back, I’m taking you in.” Two words for USF administrators who have allowed Leavitt’s ego to swell to a point where he has become perhaps the biggest jerk in college football: pathetic and disgraceful. Any chance USF quarterback Matt Grothe might have had to garner some Heisman attention has been ruined by Leavitt’s ham-handed PR. USF should have been one of the feel-good stories of the year in college football, but once again Leavitt has managed to turn the Bulls into one of the most unlikable teams in the country. . . 

Remember how we got here?

It’s game week now, though in the minds of the participants twisted by the demands of television, game week started Saturday, today is Wednesday and Thursday is Saturday. Regardless, WVU-Louisville lacks the luster it once had when ESPN picked it for its Thursday night showcase and hoped it would be a battle for Big East and maybe even national supremacy.

Neither team completely fulfiled its obligations, though the Mountaineers have been more accountable with their three-game winning streak that has them No. 6 in the polls and No. 7 in the BCS. Louisville, however, was a mess for a month or so and only now is starting to play well on offense, defense and special teams.

But try telling anyone inside Mountaineer Field Thursday night that it won’t mean a whole hell of a lot to beat Louisville. It was the Cardinals who dashed their dreams last season and scampered off in the night with the Big East’s pot of gold. A year earlier, it was WVU doing the same with the improbable triple-overtime victory.

That Louisville game on a bizarre Saturday in November is WVU’s most meaningful moment in this process that has them where they are today. Not because it propelled them to the Sugar Bowl, but because it gave them a label of legitimacy they have proudly worn ever since.

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Friday Feedback

First the bad news. I was planning an elaborate celebration to commemorate the record number of comments and e-mails from this week, but Mark Richt never got back to me. Now the good news. It’s Friday, which not only means the weekend is imminent and ESPN can only suffocate us with Colts-Patriots hype for two more days, but that it’s time for Friday Feedback.

As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, I’m getting pretty good at Ctrl-V.

Joe says:

Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out… this is the best Mountaineer team ever. I don’t think anyone would expect this team to lose to the New England Patriots as badly as the 1993 team lost to the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl.

If Patrick White got hurt on the first series of the national championship game, I think this year’s Mountaineer team would be better off than the 1989 Fiesta Bowl team.

If this year’s Mountaineer team would have played the 2005 team early in the season, it would beat it by at least 40 points. That team, while great at the end of the season, was less than mediocre at the beginning and was lucky that its schedule was cupcake-filled early (not to mention the Big East was attrocious that year).

This team has a great offense and a great defense and the only things that can keep it from running the table are:

1. not getting the “breaks” (like Matt Grothe escaping a tackle and then finding a wide open receiver in the end zone) or the center deciding he doesn’t know how to snap the ball every time they get near the end zone.

2. injuries (like Steve Slaton fumbling two or three times before pulling himself out of a game).

I don’t think West Virginia will get into the national championship game just because there are too many teams ahead of them… but I think it’s entirely possible that the Mountaineers are actually the best team in the country this year… which is the only time that has ever happen in the history of college football.  

For starters, this team has a chance to submit a claim as the best ever and I’ll be careful to keep this topic away from Mickey Furfari, who is quite fond of yesteryear. I think the one thing you see from these Mountaineers that you didn’t always see from others is a cocky competitiveness. They know they’re very good and they know they can play. As such, you really don’t expect this team to leave it in the locker room because they absolutely believe they’ll play well enough to win every game. Obviously, it doesn’t work out that way, but it’s not for a lack of effort. In fact, that shows in what we’re seeing. WVU fell early in the season, but did not fold and has responded so impressively that it finds itself right in the position most people thought they could not rediscover. Remember the loss to Boston College in 2004 with everything on the line? That just doesn’t seem as likely this year and WVU would be more apt to hammer someone when it matters.

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Avon’s calling

You’ll remember Avon Cobourne as the leading rusher in the history of West Virginia and the Big East and you may very well think of him as the player who allowed Rich Rodriguez to recruit the likes of Steve Slaton and Noel Devine because he was so special on and off the field.

His story is a great one, from the torn-up knee in high school that eliminated virtually all of the college interest in him all the way to his ascension to the rushing record and every defining moment of talent and determination in between. His professional career has followed similarly — too small, too slow, yet too good to cast aside — and tonight it may finally turn for him once and for all.

“Nothing’s ever come easy to me, and I didn’t expect this to. But now I’ve ended up where I should be.”

Cobourne left West Virginia as that university’s all-time rushing leader, gaining more than 5,100 yards while scoring 42 touchdowns. He came to the Als last season after stints in the NFL with Detroit and Miami. But Robert Edwards was firmly entrenched in Montreal’s backfield, so Cobourne made his mark on special teams. With a 95-yarder, he had the CFL’s longest field-goal return.

But Cobourne was stunned when he reported to training camp this year, was handed a red jersey – given to defensive players – and told he would practise at linebacker. Not only were there physical limitations, but he hadn’t played the position.

“I picked it up well. But then (reality) set in and I realized I’m not a linebacker. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had to think what was more important – the cheque or my pride? I need the money, so I did it for my family,” he said.

An injury to starer Jarrett Peyton will allow Cobourne to start at running back for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes tonight and does anyone think this won’t work out for Avon?

“I appreciate the fact they’ve kept me around. They’ll see my work ethic, drive and passion for the game. I’ll bring a spark,” Cobourne said. “This is the right opportunity. The team we’re playing won’t lay down. If I play well, I’ll prove something to myself.”

So the news is supposed to be that West Virginia folk hero Kevin Pittsnogle was drafted by the Austin Toros with the 12th pick of the NBA’s Developmental League draft last night.

I suppose that’s news, and good news for KP, who when we last left him was playing in France. The D-League is to the NBA what farm systems are to Major League Baseball and there’s a history of NBA teams calling up D-League talent, though former Mountaineers D’or Fischer and Tyrone Sally never sipped from their cups of coffee. Still, it’s one step forward and it at least keeps alive the idea that Pittsnogle’s unmistakable offensive skill has a home somewhere. Now, his future rests in the hands of trustworthy Quin Snyder.

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They’re bringing quarterbacks

So much will be said and written about Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm before Thursday’s game against West Virginia at Mountaineer Field. Prepare yourself because it begins tomorrow. Brohm had a conference call with the West Virginia media today and was outstanding. Seriously, you’d have a hard time booing the guy if you had listened in on the conversation.

It is another Clash of the Quarterbacks in the Big East, where there seems to be at least one marquee matchup every week now. Brohm tipped his cap to his counterpart.

“Pat White’s a great player. Obviously, he’s not a drop-back passer. He runs the spread offense and he can really run the ball, but he can throw the ball, too. The thing about him is you can tell he’s a great leader. The team rallies around him and you know he’s going to make exciting plays. That’s always going to make the team play harder and you know at any point they’re going to break a big one.”

This Clash goes deeper, though, for it might be the Battle of the Backups because both are legitimate NFL prospects and on the fictional list of best backups in the country. We all know Jarrett Brown, but I’d like to introduce you to Hunter Cantwell. Despite his lack of experience on the field, Cantwell has already generated a lot of buzz for the 2009 NFL Draft.