West Virginia’s fourth-ranked football team (3-0) heads into the toughest part of its schedule, playing four of the next five games away from home.

“That’s a lot of road games,” Coach Rich Rodriguez readily admitted Monday on the Big East coaches’ weekly teleconference.

“Our guys just have to understand how to take care of business. Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the road getting away from certain distractions.”

Rodriguez admittedly is concerned about how the young players will handle things in Saturday’s non-conference contest at East Carolina (1-2).

But he thinks there are enough veterans on the squad to help fuzzy-cheeked teammates adjust properly.

“East Carolina gave us a lot of problems last year in a close (20-15) win at home,” Rodriguez recalled. “So our guys, after having the weekend off, hopefully will be focused and ready to go against the Pirates.”

ECU, behind 20-7 at halftime, rallied in a strong second half last Saturday to defeat the Memphis Tigers, 35-20, in its home opener after two close road losses at Navy and UAB.

Is WVU better than it was last year when finishing 11-1 with No. 5 ranking?

“We’ve played like it at times this year,” Rodriguez said. “But this is our first road test, and we’re going to be in a tough environment.

“We’ve been down there before. Their crowd gets into it. This is going to be their biggest game. We’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Rodriguez said the Mountaineers must eliminate some of the mental mistakes they made in last Thursday night’s convincing 45-24 conquest of Maryland.

“Those penalties we had are correctable,” he noted. “A couple were for over aggressiveness. Then we had a couple of stupid penalties.”

That included lining up offsides on defense and also some inexcusable personal-foul infractions.

“Things like that are totally unnecessary,” Rodriguez said. “I was really upset with that and mentioned it after the game.

“If they continue to do those things, they simply won’t play. That message is going to get across.”

Asked whether he thinks the perception of the Big East has improved, the Mountaineer mentor replied:

“I do believe that the Big East is better from top to bottom than in the past couple years. And I think that it will continue getting better.”

He thinks the bashing by critics is subsiding. He urges those wanting to compare conferences to wait until later and see how teams have fared in non-league games.

“We coaches could see how Big East teams were performing very well. And now people around the country are seeing that it’s a stronger league than many think,” Rodriguez said.

“For now, I just want to compare how we’re doing ourselves. There are still a lot of games left.”

Rodriguez believes the Big East has proved that it’s certainly deserving of the conference’s BCS berth, and he’s tired of hearing that it isn’t.

Saturday’s game at Greenville, N.C., kicks off at 4:30 p.m. It will be televised by ESPN2.

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