By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It was back in the winter of 1971 when my crystal ball was broken, shattered to pieces as I critically proclaimed the following after the trade that turned the Cincinnati Reds, whom I covered, into the Big Red Machine:
“For Lee May, you’d expect Willie Mays, not just another guy named Joe,” referring to Joe Morgan, who became a Hall of Fame player.
And the it was topped off this beauty:
“If the United States had traded Dwight Eisenhower to the Germans during World War II, it wouldn’t have been much different than sending May and (Tommy) Helms to Houston.”
Since then, my services as a prognosticator were not particular requested, yet here we sit on the opening morning of West Virginia’s 2013 season and since nothing really has happened just yet we thought it was time to predict the five key moments in the upcoming season.
Moment No. 1, Clint Trickett Named WVU Starting Quarterback
Coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t figure to do this until after camp is complete, keeping the pressure on to make sure that he operates as maximum efficiency through the camp.
He will be pressed throughout by last year’s backup Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress, but neither of them have the meaningful game experience of playing under pressure with important games on the line.
Trickett also, the son of a coach, seems to have “it”, whatever “it” is. Slight of stature, he stands in strong, doesn’t back down, makes gutsy plays and exudes a certain leadership that you can’t teach but that his dad, Rick, a former WVU assistant who is at Florida State, always exhibited.
Moment No. 2, West Virginia Travels to Oklahoma
Let us first of all, as much as WVU would want it, not go to Norman expecting to win.
WVU is a young, inexperienced team with that new quarterback, going to one of the toughest places in college football to play.
What’s more, last year the Mountaineers could not beat Oklahoma in Morgantown, losing 50-49, even though Tavon Austin had arguably – or, perhaps, not – the greatest day in WVU football history as he rushed for a school record 344 yards on 21 carries and accounted for 572 all-purpose yards.
If you can’t win at home with that, you don’t look toward doing it on the road without that.
But, if the Mountaineers can show a strong offense and an improved defense from last year, have a chance to win the game, as I believe they will, they will have a chance to grow during the season and lay groundwork for the future.
Moment No. 3, Maryland Gets Crabby After Taking Its Lumps
The Terrapins are supposed to be improved under an old friend, Randy Edsall, who shared a lot of warm moments with WVU in the shooting death of one of his Connecticut players but only once in eight games there was able to find a way to beat the Mountaineers.
Add that record to last year’s loss while at Maryland and WVU is 8-1 vs. Edsall.
This game carries importance in numerous ways, first because it is an area rivalry over recruiting rights to the area that sent WVU Tavon Austin and few more this year.
It is also a game against a team that moves into the Big Ten this season.
While Maryland may be on WVU’s mind, the Terps have to be caught looking ahead to their first-ever Big Ten encounter against Indiana the following week.
With a 2-1 record coming off minor victories and all the psychological edges, WVU figures to bust up Maryland and convince itself it can win on the big stage.
Moment No. 4, WVU Escapes at Baylor
Baylor is thinking improvement this season, gaining a pair of first-place votes in the conferences preseason media poll and coming off an 8-5 season and it believes that improvement will translate into a home win over WVU.
Last year’s game, of course, was memorable as it was WVU’s first Big 12 game and one that the Mountaineers survived by the rather ridiculous score of 70-63, initiating in an era of Texas-style shootouts.
This year, though, WVU will run a lot more than it did a year previously, maybe even find a way to control the clock some on the road and squeak another narrow victory … not 70-63, but not 3-0 either.
Moment No. 5, WVU Beats Kansas, Edges Iowa State for Seven Wins
WVU brings Texas Tech to Morgantown after an awful 49-14 loss in Lubbock last year but facing a new head coach and again with the best running skills in the conference will defend Milan Puskar Stadium with a crucial victory.
That, however, will be followed with a losing streak that leaves the Mountaineers exactly where they were last year, needing to beat Kansas and Iowa State to have a winning season.
Again it’s a pair of pressure games, again each against teams that are trying to climb up the Big 12 ladder, as is WVU, but for WVU to do it the Mountaineers must continue to beat these kinds of teams while finding ways to beat the establish conference leaders.
WVU will get the job done, not necessarily by any great margins but to win these games by a field goal or a touchdown will be all they need to continue in the bowl business, which isn’t bad in a transition year.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.