Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are being mentioned as All-America possibilities. Geno Smith has drawn added attention because some have seen him as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Rakeem Cato has a measure of experience for Marshall’s Thundering Herd. The sometimes frenetic Coach John “Doc” Holliday also has halfbacks Tron Martinez and Travon Van to send at West Virginia.
And it’s going to be the last of the Joe Manchin-wrangled “Friends of Coal” football roundups between the Mountaineers and Marshall.
How many times has Holliday and the Marshall people heard the refrain “It’s not really a rivalry . . . because Marshall has never beaten WVU”? How many times has West Virginia said of its Manchin-mandated game with Marshall, “We have nothing to gain by playing this game?”
It is the final game in the series. It’s played in Morgantown because West Virginia won the last one and that victory gave them the finale on its home field.
West Virginia is now a “Beast of the Eastern Sector of the Big 12”. Future schedules are crowded with conference games. The athletic department had to pay to get out of a two-game series with Florida State. Finding another place on any schedule for Marshall isn’t likely to happen . . . unless Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) comes back with another plan to bring the schools together again.
Marshall resides in C-USA (Conference-USA) and could easily fit the Mountaineers on schedules that would have to include home games in Huntington.
Without outside “support” for such a series renewal, it is unlikely Marshall and West Virginia will be playing again.
Last year in Morgantown, lightning and pouring rain in the second half brought a halt to play with West Virginia holding a 34-13 lead. A long delay took place. When the two teams were finally brought back, another storm struck. And the game was never continued with all parties in agreement that the score would be recorded at 34-13.
West Virginia’s Smith was already 26-for-35 with his passing statistics.
Through the next few months, West Virginia managed to overcome several sorry conference losses in the Big East to get the league’s automatic berth in the Orange Bowl.
Taking a 9-3 overall record against Clemson in the bowl game, the season took a giant leap upward when Smith, Bailey, Austin and company lit the south Florida sky with 70 points.
The 70 points became the hallmark of the 2011 season.
And now West Virginia comes into the 2012 season with pre-season rankings at No. 11 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls.
When one-time WVU coach (and current pariah) Rich Rodriguez was accepted at Arizona, he persuaded many of West Virginia’s assistant coaches to follow him.
With the changeover shading the Mountaineer staff, there will be a different defensive alignment. Complicating the alignment differences was the loss of so many starters. And then injuries and off-season surgeries further disturbed matters.
Darwin Cook, Pat Miller, and Terence Garvin have been practicing and are thought to be healthy enough to be considered starters in the secondary or at linebacker for the Marshall game.
They’ll be necessary faces. The front line of the WVU defense has Will Clarke, Jorge Wright, and Shaq Rowell. Necessary? Even in whipping Clemson, the Tigers still had 33 points.
What sort of help will come from the linebackers? Mostly new starters will populate that plenty-to-prove area. Jared Barber, Doug Rigg and Garvin will play. Tyler Anderson could prove to be a versatile asset.
With Miller and Cook, the other secondary starters are likely to be Brodrick Jenkins and Travis Bell.
Coach Dana Holgorsen has said at least 10 or 11 “true” freshmen are going to play, some on more than just the four special teams.
Karl Joseph and K. J. Dillon are two of those freshmen.
In this season-opener against Marshall, the Mountaineers are expected to outscore any glaring mistakes shown by the defense or special teams.
But nothing has been proven by West Virginia’s runners.
Sophomores Austin Buie and Dustin Garrison — the starters for much of the 2011 season — have given way to Shawne Alston. Ryan Clarke is a starter whose number of carries is always very limited.
The offensive line has a long list of veterans. And Josh Jenkins, a three-year starter, comes back after missing all of 2011. Joining Jenkins are Pat Eger, Jeff Braun, Joe Madsen, and Quinton Spain. A healthy offensive line will make for a high-scoring offense — the kind needed later in the year when the Big 12 sprinters/throwers/scorers find their way onto the schedule.
Holgorsen has said he could use 45 or 50 players. He expects a game with many offensive series for his team and for him to use at least six wide receivers.
Marshall can play any number of psychological cards in this game. No respect. Overlooked. Little brother. Last chance. Knock off the rated team. Shock the nation.
Holliday’s season ended with three straight wins, two of them regular season comebacks that saved a chance to go to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in Florida. The Thundering Herd was 6-6 when it went bowling . . . and topped Florida International when it got there.
Holliday is now in his third year.
Marshall is expected to cede points to WVU’s offense. Can Cato and company make enough dents in the Mountaineer defense to keep the scoreboard moving? Should Martinez and Van run effectively, Marshall can stay on the field and possibly limit WVU’s number of possessions.
Monterius Lovett and and Jeremiah Taylor are the two leading tacklers among the returnees, but they were only seventh and eighth on the team in number of stops made in 2011.
The Herd’s 13 opponents totaled 372 points last season. And none of those opponents had WVU’s offensive clout. Even going 7-6 overall, Marshall was outscored, 372-284.
Marshall needs to dominate the special teams sections of play. It needs to get more turnovers than it gives away. It needs to stay injury-free. And it needs to carry its psychological motivation right on through to the end.
Game time is 12-noon. The television carrier is FX.
The “Coal” has run out. The United Mine Workers — not even with the return of John L. Lewis — can’t use their union power to force another game.