The Sock 'Em, Bust 'Em Board Because that's our custom

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Line of thinking

Here’s your water cooler topic for the remainder of the week: What is the point spread next Thursday night when No. 7 West Virginia plays host to Louisville?

I happen to think it’s a pretty interesting debate. It could be close. It could be a shootout. It could be a blowout. And, really, it could go in any direction. Numerous variables come into play, but the hunch is Vegas goes big. WVU has a great offense, Louisville an iffy defense that has struggled with spread offenses. The Mountaineers are also dangerous at home and the nighttime crowd mixed with the ESPN audience figures to make momentum an even bigger factor. Then again, the Cardinals have Brian Brohm at quarterback and a still-scary offense despite the 5-4 record. WVU’s defense is dramatically better, but this is its toughest test to date.

Guess? WVU as a 14 1/2 point favorite. Your thoughts?

It could be argued that West Virginia has one of the most adept coaching staffs in all of college basketball. It begins at the top, of course, with Bob Huggins and his resume needs neither explanation nor embellishment.

To his side is a former player all-conference player in Erik Martin and two former head coaches. First is Larry Harrison, a former Huggins assistant at Cincinnati who led Hartford from 2000-06 and spent last season as a scout for the Washington Wizards. Then there’s Billy Hahn, who has 30 years in the business, including 12 at Maryland, where he was responsible for much of the recruiting success as well as some other exciting moments. After his time with the Terrapins, Hahn was in charge of a resurgent LaSalle from 2001-04.

That ended badly, though, and Hahn spent three years out of the game until he was hired by Huggins in May, a decision for which he is eternally grateful.

“I just have so much respect for the game. Honestly, if I’d had to, I don’t know what else I’d do. I owe everything to Bob Huggins and the WVU administration. I’m so grateful to all of the people involved who helped make this happen. It took some courage on their part to take a stand, and they did.

“I’ve always been a very passionate guy. There’s a lot of gas left in my tank. And I’m here for one reason — to help Bob Huggins and West Virginia win a national title. Some people say it can’t happen here. Tell me a reason why we can’t … The passion of fans in this state for their sports, for WVU football and basketball … It’s as passionate as any place I’ve been.”

It’s a shame WVU closes football practice

Obviously, there are reasons for Coach Rich Rodriguez to close his practices and keep all inquiring minds far, far away from what it is that happens those three hours a day at Mountaineer Field.

I can see the stadium from my home and sometimes I wonder how close I could get before I hear the sniper cock his rifle. I am instead left with these visions of what goes on that must be protected. It’s probably boring, if not for the occasional and inevitable fight among teammates or eruption from a coach, and I doubt it’s something I’d really want to have the privilege of attending and, of course, covering.

Still, that no one is allowed in natually lets the imagination wander and many believe there is something mystical going on there. I’d like to think “Flight of the Bumblebee” is blaring over the speakers as the Mountaineers practice an array of trick plays and wacky formations Rodriguez wants no one to see so when he eventually pulls one out, it catches everyone by surprise.

Well, the perception isn’t too far from the reality. Rodriguez opened the blinds Tuesday when he revealed a little about what happens in practice, and, to be honest, it sounds like fun.

“We actually had a part of practice a couple weeks ago because poor Owen (Schmitt), it seems like when he scores a touchdown, nobody gives him a high-five. He looks lost out there. So we let him score a touchdown and everyone came over and gave him a high-five. We let Johnny Dingle get a sack and had the players go over and celebrate with him. We heard he high-fived an official at the Syracuse game because there were no teammates around him. I didn’t see it, but he’s caught a lot of grief since then.”

So after just about every preseason publibcation on the planet — really, I didn’t know there were that many — ranked West Virginia’s women’s basketball team, the one poll that matters came out Wednesday and included the Mountaineers at No. 22.

The Mountaineers received 139 votes to earn their first ranking in a major Top 25 poll since finishing the 1991-92 season at No. 14 in the AP poll.

“We’re happy to be ranked and get some national recognition,” Head Coach Mike Carey said. “It represents all the hard work that we’ve put in over the past few years. However, being ranked won’t win us any games. We have to work that much harder now knowing that we’ll be taking everyone’s best shot.”

A few other notes from the diesel-powered P.R. machine behind those Mountaineers:

> WVU was ranked in six major preseason publications (No. 12  WBB Magazine; No. 14 Athlon; No. 15; No. 23; No. 24 Lindy’s; No. 25 Personally, I think we need to know how many minor publications ranked the Mountaineers, too.

> WVU was predicted to finish third in the Big East coaches’ poll last week and trailed only preseason No. 2 UConn and No. 3 Rutgers.

>WVU returns 364 career combined starts from seven players, the most combined returning starts of any Division I school this season.

> WVU returns all five starters from last year’s team that went 21-11 and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Mountaineers lost to Final Four-bound LSU, 49-43.

> WVU has seven seniors on this year’s team, the largest senior class in school history. Included are four all-conference players (Yinka Sanni, LaQuita Owens, Chakhia Cole and Meg Bulger) and one All-American (Bulger).

After two years of disappointing finishes in the heated contest that is the Sideline Spirit contest, West Virginia’s fans are trying to make sure the history of 2005 and 2006 does not repeat itself this year. They’re throwing their support behind Nesha Sanghvi, who has a sizable lead in Round Three, but can never have enough help.

A little background about our heroine:

Zodiac: Virgo

Hobbies: Cheering, Sewing, Music and hanging out with friends

Community & Campus Involvement:
Alpha Kappa Psi Business Fraternity

Favorite Music: Reggae, Rap, Country, Rock

Favorite Food: Pizza

Favorite Vacation Spot: Italy

Favorite Book: Harry Potter

Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?:
Becoming a successful career woman and starting to make my impact on the business world.

Most Memorable Moment As A Member Of Your Squad:
When our marching band runs out onto the field and stars our pre-game by playing the WVU fight song. I always get the chills, no matter how hot or cold it is. Running out of the tunnel always gives me an adrenaline rush that is like no other.