The West Virginia Mountaineers opened football practice this week, a sign that the turbulent offseason is over and the season is just around the corner. New head coach Dana Holgorsen has begun implementing his pass-first offense, and Mountaineer fans are dreaming of a return back to the top of the Big East and a BCS Bowl Game.
Here's a look at the West Virginia Mountaineers' non-conference football schedule in 2011.
Sunday, September 4, Marshall. The Dana Holgorsen era begins in the so-called Coal Bowl as the Mountaineers face the rival no one wants to admit is a rival: the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall has never beaten West Virginia, and it should stay that way. Last year's game in Huntington went to overtime and generally made WVU fans feel sick to their stomach, a harrowing foreshadowing of the Pepto-Bismol-requiring football that would follow the ‘Eers throughout the 2010 season. This year's contest is the most anticipated game of the year for Mountaineer fans, if only because it will be their first real look at Holgorsen's vaunted pass-first offense. If the new coach had any sense of humor at all, he'd run a bubble screen on the first play from scrimmage. Barring that hilarity, look for the Mountaineers to display their newly implemented vertical passing game and win going away. While last season's contest was a heart attack in four quarters, this year's game should be a snooze. Forecast: WVU 42, Marshall 14.
Saturday September 10, Norfolk State. After a short week, the Mountaineers return to action at home against Norfolk State. Everything you need to know about Norfolk State: their nickname is the Spartans and team colors are green and yellow. I'm sure there are scouting reports about, you know, who is actually on the NSU team, and what sort of offense and defense schemes they run, but really, what's the use? This is a pay-for-slay game in Morgantown, and is the closest thing on the ‘Eers schedule to a pre-season scrimmage. With athletic director Oliver Luck jettisoning half-time re-entry at Mountaineer Field in return for beer in the concession stands this offseason, the only question remaining is, how many fans will be left in the stands by the start of the fourth quarter? Forecast: WVU 49, Norfolk State 9.
Saturday, September 17, at Maryland. The Mountaineers' first road matchup of the season has "trap game" written all over it. Like West Virginia, Maryland will be playing this one with a brand new head coach. Randy Edsall, who built the Connecticut Huskies into a viable Division I football team, is familiar with WVU's players and system, especially on the defensive side of the ball. WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense won't be a mystery and Edsall will try to beat it the same way he beat the Mountaineers last season: by running the ball. If the Terrapins are successful controlling the tempo and the clock, Holgorsen's high-flying offense may be held in check. With the Mountaineers potentially looking ahead to a looming date with LSU, any lack of focus could give the Terrapins the opening they need to pull of the upset. The Mountaineers will prevail, but it won't be easy. Forecast: WVU 27, Maryland 24.
Saturday, September 24, LSU. The jewel of WVU's 2011 slate is a home date with the LSU Tigers, a team many people are picking to win the SEC, and potentially the national title. Though all-world defensive back Patrick Peterson is gone, West Virginia fans shouldn't sleep too easily: everyone else is back. This game is obviously WVU's biggest test of the season, and a barometer for how far along Holgorsen has his troops. While I doubt the Mountaineers will escape with a win, a good showing makes them the presumptive favorites to win the conference, if they weren't already. LSU is never known to pile on the points, but the Tiger defense is consistently one of the nation's fiercest. Last season, Geno Smith was unable to make the throws needed to win, but he has an entire extra year of experience and a brand-new offense. If Geno can connect in this one, then the Mountaineers have a puncher's chance. Forecast: LSU 21, WVU 17.
Saturday, October 1, Bowling Green. ... And then there's Bowling Green. This game is on the schedule for one reason and one reason only: to allow the ‘Eers to lick their wounds if they get mauled by the Tigers. Well, that, and to sell some tickets, t-shirts and beer. There's not much to say about Bowling Green, except that it has a long and storied history of getting pounded by the Mountaineers. That will continue, at least for one more season. This will be WVU's fifth game of the year, on the fifth consecutive weekend. With a date with UConn looming before their bye week, this will be a good opportunity for the Mountaineers to rest key players and get healthy before entering Big East play. Fearless Forecast: WVU 35, Bowling Green 10