Former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart, who was hailed as Rich Rodriguez’s successor but wound up leaving the school in a messy split, died Monday of what athletic department officials said was an apparent heart attack. He was 59.
Stewart’s family notified the university and said Stewart had been out golfing with the longtime friend who hired him as head coach, former athletic director Ed Pastilong. West Virginia spokesman Michael Fragale said he had no further details, and Pastilong couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer,” athletic director Oliver Luck said in a statement released by the university. “His enthusiasm and passion for his state’s flagship university was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who was governor at the time Stewart became head coach, said Stewart was a longtime friend who “leaves behind a lifetime of memories and love for our state.”
“Bill was a proud West Virginian in every sense of the word,” Manchin said, “and he was the best cheerleader this state ever had.”
The West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association held its annual golf tournament Monday at Stonewall Jackson Resort in Roanoke.
Ryan Crook of Beckley said he was playing in the tournament behind a group that included Stewart and Pastilong. Crook said he saw Stewart collapse on the 16th hole. Members of Crook’s group drove their carts to Stewart’s side, and ambulances were called, Crook said.
Stewart went 28-12 in three seasons after taking over when Rodriguez left for Michigan after the 2007 regular season, but resigned last summer and was replaced by Dana Holgorsen the same night.
In December 2007, Mountaineer fans unleashed their fury on Rodriguez for breaking his contract early and taking the Michigan job. He left the Mountaineers not long after a painful loss to rival Pittsburgh cost them a shot at the national championship and two weeks before the Fiesta Bowl game against Oklahoma, taking recruits and assistants with him.
It was Stewart, a deeply religious family man, who stepped in and guided the team to a surprising 48-28 victory over the Sooners.
In the euphoric aftermath, he was given the job full-time – to the surprise of many – but the Mountaineers didn’t go to another BCS bowl under his leadership and Stewart couldn’t match the production of Rodriguez. In Stewart’s three seasons, West Virginia averaged at least 79 fewer yards per game than the 2007 team.
In December 2010, Luck – then just months into his tenure – decided to hire Holgorsen as offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting for the 2011 season. Holgorsen would run West Virginia’s offense while Stewart would coach the team one final season before moving into an administrative job.
Wins and losses weren’t the only issue for the coaching change. Luck said season-ticket sales had declined in the year after Stewart became head coach.
Luck said he’d modeled the transition after those done when Bret Bielema took over at Wisconsin and Chip Kelly assumed control at Oregon. Luck said he had no doubt it would be handled professionally, noting both coaches said they supported the idea.
And Stewart was diplomatic about the hire, saying the team would let Holgorsen “implement ideas and schemes in preparation of getting the finest offensive staff we can compile.”
Six months later, the arrangement had fallen apart, and Stewart’s departure became difficult. Both he and Holgorsen made unwanted headlines in the weeks leading up to the shake-up.
An intoxicated Holgorsen was escorted out of a casino, then a former newspaper reporter said that Stewart had approached him shortly after Holgorsen’s hiring to “dig up dirt” on his eventual successor.
“At the time I thought it made a lot of sense, I thought it was good management practice,” Luck said last June. “With hindsight, folks could certainly disagree.”
In Holgorsen’s first season, the Mountaineers went 10-3, were Big East co-champions and beat Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.
“The State of West Virginia, our University and our football program has lost a true Mountaineer who gave his native state university a decade of coaching service and a lifetime of guidance and inspiration to thousands of young men over a 33-year career,” Holgorsen said Monday. “Though Coach Stewart achieved many great milestones on the field, we will most remember his kindness and compassion.”
Former West Virginia running back Steve Slaton, who entered the NFL draft after his junior season in 2007, said he was at a loss for words. “I am honored to have had him as a friend and coach,” Slaton said. “I know every player that has had the opportunity to be around him would say the same.”
Stewart, a native of New Martinsville, attended Fairmont State and earned a master’s degree in health and physical education from WVU in 1977.
He had assistant coaching stints at seven colleges before becoming head coach at VMI in 1994, going 8-25 in three seasons. After a two-year stint in the Canadian Football League, Stewart was hired by Don Nehlen as an assistant at West Virginia.
“Bill was such a great Mountaineer and a great addition to our staff,” Nehlen said. “It was a terrific hire – he did a great job not only for me, but for Rich and as a head coach. Bill was such a great husband and a great father. Bill Stewart was a great Mountaineer.”
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got his first coaching job when Stewart hired him as an assistant at VMI, and Tomlin was elated when Stewart got the West Virginia job.
“We are saddened by the passing of Coach Stew,” Tomlin said in a statement released by the Steelers. “He was a great coach and a tremendous person. We not only lost a good football person, we lost an even better family man.”
Stewart and his wife, Karen, have one son, Blaine.
West Virginia is negotiating a buyout for coach Bill Stewart but the only holdup in the negotiations is the buyout money. Coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen will take over as head coach.
In the last week, Stewart and/or his wife, Karen, have been accused of a smear campaign against Holgorsen. A West Virginia paper reported last week that Holgorsen has been kicked out of six different establishments in the six months he has been at West Virginia VU, all for alcohol-fueled inappropriate behavior.
Athletic director Oliver Luck said he investigated and told a Pittsburgh radio station “there were a lot of inaccuracies” to the claims, then said he was investigating the source of the leak to the West Virginia newspaper. Also this week, a former writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Stewart asked him in December to dig up dirt on Holgorsen.
Stewart won 27 games in three seasons at WVU, but never has reached the level of success previous coach Rich Rodriguez attained. When Luck brazenly announced the coach-in-waiting plan in December, he did so by stating WVU should be winning conference championships and that he didn’t think Stewart could lead the program there.
Holgorsen’s offenses have been among the nation’s best the last three seasons, with his quarterbacks at Houston and Oklahoma State combining to throw for more than 125 touchdown passes.
This game goes down on the ESPN network and it features West Virginia University Mountaineers taking on North Carolina State University Wolfpack in the 21st annual Champs Sports Bowl features at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
West Virginia, 9-3, 5-2 Big East, earned a share of the Big East title this season, but lost out on the tie-breaker with UConn. West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart Mountaineers won its last four games of the regular season has its offense came alive down the stretch, scoring 35 or more points in three of its final four games and cracking 500 total yards in a finale win over Rutgers. Turnovers however, have been an issue for the Mountaineers, as they have committed 23, including 16 lost fumbles.
Running the offense for the Mountaineers is sophomore Geno Smith, as he was in his first season as a starter, completed 65.8 percent of his pass attempts with 23 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. Jock Sanders served as Smith’s safety outlet with a team-high 64 catches, while Tavon Austin provided a deep threat with 757 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. The Mountaineers also have a threat in the backfield with Noel Devine, though his season was slowed by ankle and foot issues. The speedy back totaled just 884 yards after entering the season as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.
Defensively the Mountaineers have been outstanding for the most part this season and they rank second in both run with 85.1 ypg and scoring defense at 12 ppg. Bruce Irvin leads the team with 12 sacks while Julian Miller adds 8 to go with a 13 tackles for loss. In the secondary Keith Tandy has a team high 6 interceptions.
NC State, 8-4, 5-3 ACC, suffered a 38-31 loss to Maryland in its regular-season finale that cost the team the Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship game. Head coach Tom O’Brien’s offense revolves around Russell Wilson, who is one of the most talented quarterbacks around with a strong arm and mobility. Wilson has thrown for 3,288 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding 394 more yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. Wilson does lack accuracy as he has only completing 58.1 percent of his pass attempts with 14 interceptions.
Owen Spencer is Wilson’s favorite target in the passing game, as he leads the roster with 57 catches and 868 receiving yards. Jarvin Williams is another option and he ranks second behind 46 receptions for 636 yards. The ground game is lead by Mustafa Greene as he has amassed only 584 yards on the season.
Defensively the Wolfpack averages nearly 8 tackles for a loss per game to limit opponents to 115 yards on the ground. Nate Irving has been outstanding for NC State as he has 20.5 tackles for loss on the season and leads the team with 6 sacks.
The Mountaineers own a 13-16 all-time record in bowl games and are coming off a loss to Florida State in the Gator Bowl last season. NC State owns a 12-11-1 record in bowl games with their last postseason appearance came in 2008 and was loss to Rutgers. The Mountaineers and Wolfpack have met previously nine times including twice in the postseason where the Mountaineers holds a 5-4 edge in the series.
PICK: West Virginia University Mountaineers
This game goes down on the ESPN2 network and it features West Virginia University Mountaineers taking on the University of Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field.
Head coach Bill Stewart will travel to Connecticut at 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big East after losing at home last weekend to Syracuse 19-14. The defeat snapped a 12 game home winning streak by West Virginia and knocked them from the national rankings. The Mountaineers success now and in the future rest on sophomore quarterback Gino Smith, 1536 yards 15 touchdowns 5 INTs, who is completing 65.9 percent of his throws. Smith still has the luxury of having senior running back Noel Devine, 626 yards 4 touchdowns, but he hasn’t been nearly as explosive as his past seasons.
The Mountaineers offense calls for a lot of quick slant routes for its receivers to run and that benefits sophomore Tavon Austin, 445 yards 3 touchdowns, and senior Jock Sanders, 370 yards 2 touchdowns, as they both have over 35 receptions on the year.
Defensively the Mountaineers have surrendered 7 passing touchdowns while coming up with 8 interceptions to rank 5th in the nation at being scored upon with just 13 points per game by its opponents. Junior defensive back Keith Tandy has recorded half of the team’s interceptions.
Head coach Randy Edsall has his Huskies ready for tonight’s matchup with a 3-4 overall record and 0-2 in conference play. The Huskies have a two game losing streak on their hands as they get ready for tonight, the latest being to Louisville in which they where shutout 26-0. Prior to last weekend’s game, junior Cody Endres, 471 yards 5 touchdowns, was suspended for the season following violations of school policies. Redshirt freshman Mike Box, 65 yards 1 INT, made his first career start under center but struggled and eventually was replaced by senior Zach Frazer, 605 yards 2 touchdowns 1 INT, who had begun the season as the starter.
Whomever does get the call this weekend the Huskies should get use to handing the ball off to junior Jordan Todman, 841 yards 8 touchdowns, as he is one of the top running backs around.
The UConn defense has trouble stopping the run but it does have senior linebacker Lawrence Wilson and his 78 tackles on the season to be on the lookout for.
West Virginia has won all previous six meetings between the two schools.
PICK: West Virginia University Mountaineers
This game goes down on the ESPN network and it features the University of South Florida Bulls taking on West Virginia University Mountaineers in Morgantown.
Head coach Skip Holtz, who is in his first year of coaching the Bulls after guiding East Carolina to consecutive Conference USA titles, brings his team into this Big East matchup 3-2 overall and 0-1 in conference. The Bulls are coming off a shocking loss at home to Syracuse 13-9, who only won won game last year, but have beaten West Virginia in three of their past four games and that includes last year 30-19 at home.
The offense is lead by sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels, 684 yards 4 touchdowns 7 INTs, has struggled so far completing 52.6 percent of his throws. Besides Daniels high number of interceptions for so early in the season also comes with an alarming number of 10 sacks he has given up. Daniels will take off with the ball though at times if he can’t find either senior wide receiver Dontavia Bogan, 219 yards 2 touchdowns, or sophomore Evan Landi, 215 yards, open. Daniels is third on the team in rushing at 186 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Bulls prefer to keep the ball on the ground and do so by giving the ball to senior Moise Plancher, 289 yards 4 touchdowns, and sophomore Demetris Murray, 253 yards one touchdown. The Bulls are averaging 176.2 yards per game on the ground and 4.6 yards per carry.
The Bulls have been great on defense this season and have only allowed over 14 points just one time which came in their 38-14 loss at Florida. Senior defensive end Craig Marshall, 6 tackles for loss 4 sacks, is one to watch on this side of the ball.
Head coach Bill Stewart has his Mountaineers ready to play in their first Big East conference game and 4-1 overall. The Mountaineers lost to LSU in Baton Rouge 20-14 but rebounded with a 49-10 victory over UNLV this past weekend.
The offense is a two headed monster of sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, 1139 yards 12 touchdowns 2 INTs, who has completed 66.4 percent of his throws and one of the top backs in the nation with senior running back Noel Devine, 475 yards 4 touchdowns, who is averiaging 5.3 ypc.
When Smith looks down field he usually looks in the direction of fellow sophomore wide receiver Tavon Austin, 366 yards 2 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Jock Sanders, 286 yards 2 touchdowns, is another of his favorite targets and has looked for him in crucial situations this season. Smith benefited by having junior wide receiver Brad Starks,100 yards 3 touchdowns, back in the lineup last week after missing the first four games with a groin injury
The Mountaineers have really thrived on the defensive side of the ball this season, holding opponents to only 254.6 ypg and a mere 13 ppg, which is 7th best in the nation. The Mountaineers are only giving up 86.8 rushing ypg and just one rushing touchdown this season.
PICK: University of South Florida Bulls
This game goes down on the ESPN2 network and it features the West Virginia University Mountaineers taking on Louisiana State University Tigers in Baton Rouge.
West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart brings his Mountaineers into SEC territory 3-0 after defeating Maryland 31-17. West Virginia is lead by sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, 800 yards 7 touchdowns one interception, who has completed 70.3 percent of his throws. At Smith’s disposal are several top wide receivers like sophomore Tavon Austin, 281 yards 2 touchdowns, and senior Jock Sanders, 214 yards one touchdown.
Besides the talented wide receiving core Smith has, he is helped by having senior Noel Devine, 354 yards 2 touchdowns, the nation’s active rushing leader with 3,735 yards. Devine has gone over the century mark in each game this season and is averaging 118 rushing ypg.
The Mountaineer defense dominates against the run and is holding opponents to just 62.8 ypg. Furthermore the unit has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this season. The Mountaineer defense has also added 8 sacks with 3 coming from junior defensive end Bruce Irvin.
For head coach Les Miles and the Tigers they enter tonight’s game 3-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. The Tigers also hold the distinction that no team outside the SEC has won on its home field since University of Alabama at Birmingham did so on Sept. 23, 2000, a streak of 28. The Tigers offense shoulders itself on junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, 344 yards 2 touchdowns 2 INTs, who has failed to throw for 100 yards in back-to-back games. Jefferson has only completed 57.9 percent of his throws. The Tigers have a good rushing attack led by junior Stevan Ridley, 318 yards 2 touchdowns, and sophomore Russell Shepard, 128 yards 2 touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball the Tigers are lead by junior defensive back Patrick Peterson and sophomore Morris Claiborne, who both have 2 interceptions each. The run defense for Miles has been it’s strength allowing just 80.3 ypg on the ground and just 2.2 yards carry. Senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard leads the defense with 27 tackles while senior defensive tackle Drake Nevis has accounted for 3.5 of the team’s 11 sacks.
This game represents the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
PICK: West Virginia University Mountaineers
This game goes down on the ESPN network and it features West Virginia University Mountaineers taking on Marshall University Thundering Herd in Huntington home of the Herd.
The Mountaineers are led by Bill Stewart, now in his third season at the helm and they cruised past Coastal Carolina as expected by a 31-0 final. There are 16 starters back between the offense and defense. While many starters do return for West Virginia, Geno Smith is a fresh face under center. In the opener against Coastal Carolina, Smith was 20-27 for 216 yards 2 touchdowns and 1 INT.
Senior running back Noel Devine ran for 111 yards and one touchdown and the speedy back now has nearly 3,500 rushing yards in his brilliant collegiate career. Senior Jock Sanders was the leading receiver for the Mountaineers as his pulled in 8 catches for 71 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively West Virginia held the Chanticleers to 186 total yards on 60 offensive plays. Of the 14 third-down conversion attempts that Coastal faced in the tilt, only two of those were successful. Sophomore defensive back Terence Garvin lead the way with 7 tackles.
As for Marshall, which is a member of Conference USA, it had the unenviable task of taking on Ohio State in Columbus to open the season last week. The Thundering Herd fell to the Buckeyes in a 45-7 that lopsided defeat spoiled the debut of head coach Doc Holliday.
Holliday’s offense posted just 199 total yards and recorded 11 first downs against Ohio State, which possesses one of the best defenses in all of college football. The Thundering Herd were 4-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts and turned the ball over three times.
A major problem for Marshall was that its receivers dropped far too many passes. Both Brian Anderson and backup Eddie Sullivan saw time under center, and both were victimized by the drops. Anderson was 17-28 for 135 yards 1 INT.
On the defensive side of the ball Marshall was simply over powered by the Ohio State offense. The Thundering Herd were thrashed for 529 total yards as the Buckeyes where able to hold the ball for nearly 35 minutes of the contest. If there was one bright spot on the defense it was the performance of senior linebacker Mario Harvey who recorded 10 total tackles and junior defensive end Vinny Curry who had 2 sacks.
West Virginia has won all nine previous meetings with Marshall, including double-digit victories over the Herd in each of the last four seasons.
PICK: West Virginia University Mountaineers
The 47th annual Gator Bowl will see the West Virgina Mountaineers take on the Florida State Seminoles in the iconic coach Bobby Bowden’s last game. Bowden’s historic 44-year career as a head coach reluctantly comes to a close.
The Seminoles (6-6) are in postseason play for the 28th straight year, but it was a difficult season for the affable Bowden. Florida State failed to win more than two in a row and fell for the sixth straight time to Florida, 37-10 on Nov. 28, to finish third in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Two days later, Bowden, 80, said he hadn’t decided on his future and still had career options – one of them being to remain the head coach. After meeting with university officials Dec. 1, though, Bowden said the Gator Bowl would be his last game.
Regardless of the .500 season, Bowden’s accomplishments while building a powerhouse over 34 seasons in Tallahassee are staggering. Following several near-misses in the 1980s, he won national titles with the Seminoles in 1993 and most recently in 1999, when they went unbeaten and became the first to go wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team in the AP poll. Another big achievement is a string of 14 straight seasons, ending in 2000, during which Florida State won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top five. The Seminoles were 152-19-1 in that span.
He has a 315-97-4 record with Florida State.
Florida State has long had a plan in place for Bowden’s successor, naming offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher in 2007. But first, Bowden will get a send-off in a bowl game where he’s yet to lose. The Seminoles are 4-0 under him in the Gator Bowl, including double-digit wins over West Virginia in 1982 and 2005.
The Mountaineers have won four consecutive bowls since that last loss to Florida State and two of those victories have been under coach Bill Stewart, who is among the many ardent Bowden supporters.
West Virginia (9-3) appeared to be out of the mix for a New Year’s bowl following late-season losses to South Florida and Cincinnati. However, with three-point wins over then-No. 8 Pittsburgh and Rutgers to close the regular season, the Mountaineers finished tied with the Panthers for second in the Big East behind the 12-0 Bearcats.
The Mountaineers’ best player is running back Noel Devine, who finished second in the Big East with 1,372 yards and fourth with 12 touchdowns. Jarrett Brown was third in the conference with 2,129 passing yards, but threw only 11 TDs with eight interceptions in 12 games.
Brown’s counterpart is EJ Manuel, who has started the last three games after Christian Ponder was lost for the season due to a separated shoulder. Manuel has appeared in six games, throwing for 616 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions.
His top targets are Rod Owens and Bert Reed, who tied for fifth in the conference with 58 receptions, but Owens had only three touchdowns while Reed had none. Jarmon Fortson topped the team with four TD catches. Jermaine Thomas led the Seminoles ground game with 711 yards and 7 TDs.
PICK: Florida State University Seminoles
Marshall University has hired West Virginia assistant head coach John “Doc” Holliday, who after three decades of assisting someone else’s program, will finally run one himself. Holliday replaces Mark Snyder who resigned November 29 after going 22-37 in five seasons.
Holliday, 52, known as a fabulous recruiter, signed a five-year contract worth $600,000 per season. Holliday, who grew up 30 miles away from Marshall’s campus, played linebacker at West Virginia from 1976-78. He spent 20 seasons as an assistant under former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen and again for current Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart the past two years. In between he spent five seasons as an assistant at North Carolina State and three seasons as associate head coach for safeties under Urban Meyer at Florida.
Holliday was passed over for the West Virginia head coaching job after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan in 2007 but eventually hired by Stewart as recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach. Heading southwest from Morgantown to Huntington, Holliday will immediately be met with challenges of rebuilding a winner as well increasing attendance. Under Snyder attendance declined to an average of 22,236 fans this season, nearly half empty.
Adding to the difficult task of shaping a winner is the skeptical fans who loathe his longtime ties with cross-state foe West Virginia.
Marshall still has a game to play this season, as defensive coordinator Rick Minter is the interim coach for the Thundering Herd (6-6) against Ohio (9-4) in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit December 26. Holliday does not to plan to attend the game and will not coach West Virginia (9-3) in the Gator Bowl January 1 when they take on Florida State (6-6).
Holliday will get reacquainted with the Mountaineers soon enough, as next season Marshall’s first game is at Ohio State before the Thundering Herd play host to West Virginia.
Pittsburgh’s shocking upset of West Virginia in Morgantown two years ago was a positive end to an otherwise disappointing season. There have been few low points for the Panthers since.
Pittsburgh will try to avoid looking too far ahead when it visits West Virginia on Friday night in the 102nd meeting of the teams’ intense rivalry. Pittsburgh (9-1, 5-0 Big East) attention is focused on their annual showdown with the Mountaineers, a game often referred to as the “Backyard Brawl.”
Pitt has won the last two meetings with West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), including a 13-9 victory in Morgantown in 2007, which kept the Mountaineers from playing for the national title.
Coach Dave Wannstedt acknowledges the Panthers’ 2007 win over the Mountaineers as a turning point for his program. Pittsburgh had come into that game 4-7. In the two years since, the Panthers have gone 18-5, and they have been a consistent presence in the Top 25.
West Virginia, meanwhile, saw coach Rich Rodriguez leave two weeks after that upset defeat. The Mountaineers went 9-4 under Bill Stewart last season and have spent only two weeks in the rankings this season. This is the first time since 2003 that the teams have met with the Panthers in the Top 25 and the Mountaineers unranked.
Dion Lewis, the freshman running back leads the Big East with 129.1 rushing yards per game. Lewis needs only 38 more yards to surpass Pitt’s LeSean McCoy for the Big East’s freshman rushing mark.
Handing off the ball to Lewis is quarterback Bill Stull, has silenced doubters with his effective play this season. Stull has completed an efficient 66.3 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown 18 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Stull’s favorite targets are wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dickerson. Baldwin is obviously the deep threat, catching 40 balls for 840 yards, while Dickerson is a red zone target, with 10 of his 43 catches resulting in a touchdown.
The Mountaineers are sure to test Pitt’s run defense, as they are churning out 183.5 ypg on the ground this season. WVU is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has scored 23 of its 35 offensive touchdowns on the ground.
The speedy and elusive Noel Devine leads the run game, although the 5-8, 176- pounder has been slowed by some minor injuries of late. Still, Devine has enjoyed a standout campaign with 1,098 yards and 10 scores, and his 5.7 yard per carry average is indicative of his explosiveness.
Helping to take some of the pressure off Devine is quarterback Jarrett Brown, who has proved too be an effective runner in his own right, gaining 366 yards and five scores on the ground. Brown has had success with his arm as well, hitting on 65.1 percent of his tosses with 11 more touchdowns. Jock Sanders is clearly the favorite target of Brown, as his 62 catches are nearly double the next closest player on the roster.
Friday is West Virginia’s final home game. It’s trying to go undefeated in Morgantown for the first time since 1993.
PICK: University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Cincinnati has endured plenty of uncertainty surrounding its quarterback situation this week, but coach Brian Kelly hopes the offense continues its smooth sailing on the field regardless of who is under center.
While Zach Collaros makes his fourth straight start as the Bearcats chase the first 10-0 start in school history, injured starter Tony Pike is also expected to see action Friday night when their pursuit of a spot in the BCS title game continues against visiting West Virginia.
Each quarterback has proved he can effectively run the Bearcats’ spread, no-huddle offense, which ranks third nationally with 482.6 yards per game.
After Pike led Cincinnati to the Big East title and the Orange Bowl last season, the 6-foot-6 senior threw 15 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in six starts this year to gain some early Heisman Trophy buzz and help the Bearcats (9-0, 5-0 Big East) to six relatively comfortable victories.
But after the strong-armed Pike reinjured his previously broken non-throwing forearm against South Florida on Oct. 15, Collaros added a new dimension to Cincinnati’s offense by running for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the 34-17 win. In three starts since then, Collaros has shown he can also pass effectively, going 66 for 82 for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception.
The sophomore helped Cincinnati rack up a school-record 711 total yards in Saturday’s 47-45 win over Connecticut, after which Kelly said he was no longer committed to Pike as a starter. Collaros threw for 480 yards and a touchdown and ran for 75 yards and two scores. The prolific offense has been the primary reason why Cincinnati remains in the national championship conversation and has a chance for the best start in the program’s history. The 1951 team also began 9-0 but lost its 10th game.
The Bearcats also need to keep winning in order to defend their conference title, as they remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the Big East, but they may need to tighten their defense after the unit’s worst performance of the season.
UConn scored more points than Cincinnati’s previous three opponents combined, including 21 in the fourth quarter to narrow the deficit. The Huskies ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns. That could be a problem if West Virginia is able to use star running back Noel Devine, one of 16 players nationally who has topped 1,000 yards rushing.
Devine injured his ankle in a 17-9 win over Louisville on Saturday, forcing the Mountaineers (7-2, 3-1) to rely on defense to outlast the Cardinals. Quarterback Jarrett Brown suffered a similar injury in the game, but West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said he’s optimistic both players will play this week.
The bigger challenge for the Mountaineers, however, will likely be slowing down a Cincinnati offense which Stewart has called a “juggernaut.” A pair of opponents have already totaled at least 300 yards through the air against West Virginia, which must win this game to maintain any shot at the conference title.
The Mountaineers will have some positive history on their side. They were the last team to win at Nippert Stadium, 28-23 over then-No. 21 Cincinnati on Nov. 17, 2007, when West Virginia was ranked fifth.
The Bearcats have won 11 in a row at home, and they won 26-23 at West Virginia last Nov. 8 even though their offense was held to 260 yards – its lowest total in the last two seasons.
PICK: University of Cincinnati Bearcats
West Virginia has needed second-half comebacks to win its last two games, the Mountaineers hope to assert themselves as serious Big East title contenders in a visit to South Florida, is trying to rebound from back-to-back losses to the league’s other top teams. Mountaineers (6-1, 2-0) are trying to keep up with reigning league champion Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, both of which are more highly ranked and also unbeaten in conference play.
West Virginia will face both of those teams in November, but first it must focus on the Bulls, who helped derail the Mountaineers’ national title hopes the last time the teams met in Tampa. South Florida’s 21-13 win on Sept. 28, 2007, was West Virginia’s only road loss in an 11-2 campaign.
Coach Bill Stewart’s Mountaineers have averaged 15.0 points in their last three games against the Bulls, going 1-2. West Virginia won 13-7 at home last season despite being out gained 326-280. The Mountaineers have trailed Marshall 7-3 before winning 24-7 two weeks ago, and they were behind Connecticut on Saturday before Noel Devine’s 56-yard touchdown run with 2:10 to play gave them a 28-24 win. The game was an emotional one as UConn played for the first time following the death of cornerback Jasper Howard, who was stabbed in an on-campus incident the previous weekend.
West Virginia’s conference-best running game has keyed the Mountaineers’ current four-game winning streak, as Devine is averaging 148.0 yards per game in that stretch. Devine is seventh nationally in total rushing, had 171 of his 178 yards in the second half against UConn.
Quarterback Jarrett Brown was unspectacular against the Huskies as he returned from a mild concussion, and the Mountaineers may try to rely on Devine again. South Florida (5-2, 1-2) ranks first in the Big East defending the pass but seventh against the run, allowing 132.4 yards per game.
After giving up 189 rushing yards to Cincinnati in a 34-17 home loss Oct. 15, the Bulls allowed 214 to Pitt en route to a 41-14 road defeat Saturday as All-American defensive end George Selvie had just one tackle.The Bulls also struggled offensively against the Panthers, as redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels went 4 for 8 for 54 yards and two interceptions.
The Bulls are 21-6 at home since the start of 2005 and they could provide a strong test for West Virginia, which is just 1-1 on the road. The Mountaineers won at Syracuse but lost 41-30 at Auburn on Sept. 19.
PICK: University of South Florida Bulls
Colorado Buffaloes head coach Dan Hawkins in under fire over the recent 1-2 start by the program. Hawkins proclaimed during the summer that his Buffaloes would win 10 games this season and after an opening game loss to instate rival Colorado St Rams 23-17 and an embarrassing 54-38 loss to Toledo Rockets
The Rockets gained 319 yards through the air and 305 on the ground against the team from the Big 12 and the hopes for a 10 win season were dashed right out of the gate for Hawkins.
Colorado Buffaloes junior starting quarterback Cody Hawkins is only completing 52% of his passes on the season for 755 yards five touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He has been sacked eight times this season. Despite a big offensive line the Buffaloes are only averaging 3.1 yards per carry from the ground. Running back Rodney Stewart is the leading ball carrier for the Buffaloes with 175 yards and on 38 rushing attempts with two rushing touchdowns.
West Virginia last year’s 17-14 overtime loss in Boulder was the second of a terrible twosome for the Mountaineers, who were drilled at East Carolina the week before. This year brings the opportunity for redemption, and they already got revenge on East Carolina earlier this season. The payback opportunity arrives when Colorado comes to Morgantown and West Virginia is looking to rebound off a turnover filled 41-30 loss to the Auburn Tigers.
Head coach Bill Stewart’s team sits at 2-1 on the season with a notable 35-20 victory at home to East Carolina. West Virginia senior quarterback Jarrett Brown is hitting on 68% of his passes on the season for 798 yards five touchdowns and an alarming 5 interceptions on the season, the Tigers picked him off 4 times in his last game.
The Mountaineers are led on the ground by running back Noel Devine who brings 6.3 yards per carry average on 51 rushing attempts to the Colorado game. West Virginia’s defense is very good against the run this season limiting teams to just 83 yards per game on the ground. In their loss to Auburn the team accumulated over 500 yards of total offense and was 10 of 15 in third down conversions.
The Buffaloes and the Mountaineers share quality running games however they share equally terrible quarterbacks that allow defenses to stack the box cause they don’t fear the passing attack of either team.
PICK: West Virginia University Mountaineers