The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 13, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Hype is rising for WVU football

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s football program, before it has run one play for new offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen, has become America’s darling in the world of college football.

On the surface, one might think that they were destined to head into the 2011 season in the obscurity that comes with the “also-received-votes” section of the top 25. After all, there is a long list of negatives that begins with what would seem to be an unworkable coaching situation with a head coach who already has been relieved and who has no say over the offense that is run by his hand-selected successor.

Add to that it is a team that lost its two greatest offensive weapons in Noel Devine, who has no obvious successor at running back, and slot receiver Jock Sanders, and that has lost the heart and soul of what was perhaps the greatest defense in the school’s history.

Gone from that defense is Chris Neild, Robert Sands, J.T. Thomas and Brandon Hogan, all NFL players.

However, first indications after seeing Holgorsen’s MountainAir offense operate in the spring game are that this team well may be adopted by the college football public as its fun team of the season, even to the point that there is talk of a Big East championship and — buckle your seat belt for this ride — a possible national championship.

Let’s begin with an article that appeared on ESPN.com, which seems to have adopted the MountainAirs as its very own. Thursday morning the home page for college football welcomed readers with a large photo of WVU quarterback Geno Smith dominating the page.

Brian Bennett, their Big East blogger, selects the Mountaineers at No. 1 with this blurb in his power rankings:

“1. West Virginia: In the past three seasons, West Virginia has averaged just over 16 points per game during its 12 losses and could have turned five of those defeats into victories if it simply scored three touchdowns in the game. Conversely, Dana Holgorsen’s offenses have averaged more than 42 points the past three years and have never failed to score fewer than 20 points. So, yes, we’re buying on spec a bit with the Mountaineers. But with Holgorsen calling the plays for quarterback Geno Smith and Jeff Casteel getting the most out of a young defense, the Mountaineers have the highest ceiling.”

This certainly makes sense and offers great hope, but is nothing compared to what his co-worker Bruce Feldman wrote in an “insiders” blog that was supposed to give the college football a handle on the best early odds out of Las Vegas on winning the national championship.

Appearing under the headline “Why West Virginia is a good title bet,” Feldman noted that Ohio State was a 10-1 pick and thought that strange considering its suspensions and turmoil. Being one who does a Top 10 list, Feldman opted to give what he thought were the best values Vegas is offering on the nation title.

West Virginia was No. 1, having opened at 60-1 and dropped to 50-1.

“OK, you’ve read some of this here before: I am a big believer in Dana Holgorsen. He is as sharp an offensive mind as there is working in college football today. What he did last year at Oklahoma State was remarkable. Now he inherits a team with some promising young skill talent (remember the name Tavon Austin) and a gifted QB with starting experience in Geno Smith. Last season, WVU ranked 78th in scoring. Expect a huge jump. This team is going to pile up points and roll through the Big East.

“In defensive end Bruce Irvin, the Mountaineers may have the best pass-rusher in the country. Better still, WVU has a big pivotal nonconference game Sept. 24, when the LSU Tigers visit Morgantown. The Tigers should be in the Top 10 at that point in the season and maybe even No. 1 overall if they beat the Oregon Ducks in the season opener. That would be a huge win, potentially, for West Virginia. Would it be enough to vault them over an unbeaten SEC or even Big 12 champ? Doubtful, but if there is a bunch of one-loss AQ champs out there, an unbeaten WVU squad with a win over LSU may intrigue pollsters. So, at 50-1, the Mountaineers are a pretty intriguing pick.”

Ladies and gentlemen, in mid-May there is talk of a national title for a West Virginia team that really isn’t even a clear favorite in the Big East.

And it’s not just ESPN.com that is smitten. So, too, is Athlon, the magazine people.

They are in the midst of their Top 25 countdown and WVU came out Thursday at No. 17 … which isn’t No. 1 but is the best in the Big East.

“West Virginia looks to be the clear-cut leader in the Big East this season,” says Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light. “With new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen directing an already talented group, the Mountaineers should put a ton of points on the scoreboard.”

Eleven Mountaineers earned preseason All-Big East honors from Athlon, including quarterback Geno Smith, wide receiver Tavon Austin, offensive lineman Don Barclay, defensive lineman Bruce Irvin and cornerback Keith Tandy on the first team.

Now, all this football team has to do is go out and live up to all this.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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