This Week's Mountaineer Sports Notebook


CAMPUS CONNECTION
By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
June 25, 2014 09:03 PM

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has faced eight nationally ranked teams during his first two years coaching in the Big 12, with several more on the way in 2014.
All-Pro Photography Dale Sparks photo
The summer is a time for some sun, fun, vacations and, yes, lists, lists and more lists.
 
You name it … from the top coaches, the most pivotal players, team-by-team rankings from No. 128 to No. 1, the 10 must-watch players, the best mascots, the toughest places to play … so on and so forth. Everyone, it seems, is coming up with some kind of list.
 
There was one list, however, that really caught my attention – Bruce Feldman’s “Most brutal non-conference slates in America.”
 
Of course, the interest in what Feldman had to write was because he has West Virginia’s non-conference schedule consisting of Alabama, Maryland and Towson rated the toughest in the country.
 
Throw on top of that Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Texas – Big 12 teams expected to be really good this year – and the Mountaineers may be required to do a little water walking in 2014.
 
“Given the fact that, outside of Kansas, the Big 12 is very competitive and the non-conference is rough, if the Mountaineers get to a bowl game, Holgorsen might merit some Big 12 Coach of the Year votes,” wrote Feldman.
 
Facing difficult grid slates on a yearly basis is once again part of the deal for the Mountaineers now that West Virginia is in the Big 12. Holgorsen’s West Virginia teams have played eight games against ranked opponents in the last two years after the Mountaineers faced only seven ranked teams during a four-season stretch from 2008-11.
 
With the exception of one year in 2003, when the Mountaineers played five ranked teams (only two of those finished the year in the top 25, though), you have to go all the way back to the mid-1980s to find anything comparable to what Holgorsen’s teams are going up against on the gridiron these days.
 
In 1986, West Virginia was required to play the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in America in Penn State and Miami, as well as 17th-ranked Boston College and 20th-ranked Virginia Tech.
 
In 1982 the road had just as many pot holes, the Mountaineers opening the season at Oklahoma and also facing Maryland, Pitt, Penn State and Boston College during the regular season before playing Florida State in the Gator Bowl. All five of those teams were ranked anywhere from No. 5 to No. 20 at the end of the year.
 
Going way back to the late 1950s, when Art “Pappy” Lewis was coaching and the big boys up front were only using single-bar face masks, West Virginia played brutal football schedules in 1956 and 1959.
 
In ’56, West Virginia had to contend with No. 6 Miami, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 13 Pitt and the No. 17-ranked George Washington Colonials (yeah, GW was good that year) from the Southern Conference.
 
And in ’59 Lewis went through another gauntlet, playing No. 1 Syracuse, No. 12 Penn State, No. 14 USC and No. 20 Pitt.
 
Not surprisingly, Pappy was scouting for the Pittsburgh Steelers the following year.
 
***
 
Earlier this week, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen named senior Clint Trickett his starting quarterback heading into fall camp. Trickett appeared in eight games last year, completing a little better than 52 percent of his pass attempts for 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns.
 
Three different quarterbacks played last season for the Mountaineers and their combined production was among the worst - if not the worst - ever under Holgorsen.
 
Considering how inconsistent the QB play was at times last season, having a No. 1 guy going into camp is probably a good idea with Alabama on the horizon.
 
As for Trickett, he’s been playing catch up ever since he transferred from Florida State last summer. Trickett cracked the starting lineup against Oklahoma State and led the Mountaineers to their best win of the year, but he also got hurt during that game and played the rest of the season with a sore shoulder.
 
Trickett’s health and lack of game experience in Holgorsen’s system are the two biggest concerns most people have with him heading into this year. Think about this … when Trickett’s two-year career is finished it will be without the benefit of a single WVU spring football practice.
 
Clint is extremely bright and has been around a football field for most of his life, and Holgorsen prefers that his quarterbacks have extensive football backgrounds, so that should be helpful for him when fall camp starts.
 
Trickett should also have some help around him with a solid cast of interior offensive linemen and several quality running backs, but a real key will be finding a couple of vertical playmaking threats to keep defenses honest.
 
Taking shots down the field is probably going to be the best way to attack an Alabama secondary that last year gave up a combined 812 yards through the air against southwestern-style offenses in Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
 
We’ll see what happens on Aug. 30.
 
***
 
Our Jeff Culhane of the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG had an interesting 20-minute interview with college football expert Phil Steele, whose 352-page college football preview is now available in newsstands everywhere. A podcast of Culhane’s interview with Steele will be available on our website Thursday afternoon.
 
***
 
I received word today of the recent passing of former West Virginia University two-way end Joe Kopnisky, a three-year letterman from 1954-56. Kopnisky’s best season came in 1956 when he caught 19 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown in 1956.
 
He was a long-time Western PA high school and collegiate coach, including serving stints at Grove City and Slippery Rock where he retired in 2000, ending a 44-year coaching career.
 
He is survived by his wife, Joan; his son, Jack Kopnisky of Mahwah, N.J.; and daughter Jill Kopnisky Clark of Naperville, Ill.
 
Our condolences go out to his family.
 
***
 
West Virginia’s $125 million in announced facility improvements earlier this spring continues to chase moving targets. Oklahoma is the latest Big 12 school to announce major facility renovations, the Sooners earlier today unveiling a $370 million plan to upgrade Memorial Stadium.
 
***
 
Dale Wolfley is seeking another banner year for the WVU Varsity Club in 2015. Since taking over the Varsity Club four years ago, membership has increased by more than 200 percent and lifetime memberships have increased by nearly 170 percent, says Wolfley.
 
He also indicated that the Varsity Club is planning to donate $25,000 to the Mountaineer Athletic Club in support of WVU student-athlete academic achievement.
 
Former Mountaineer student-athletes, coaches and administrators wishing to join can do so by contacting the WVU Varsity Club toll-free 1-800-433-2072 or by logging on to the WVU Varsity Club website (http://www.wvuvarsityclub.com).
 
***
 
And finally, I had a great conversation with former Mountaineer guard Darris Nichols a few weeks ago when he was in town for the Bob Huggins Fantasy Basketball Camp.
 
Nichols is now a Division I coach and one of the topics we spent some time talking about is the current trend of college basketball players transferring to other four-year schools. Recently, we saw two of West Virginia’s top three scorers from last year’s team leave school for other Division I programs.
 
Nichols played three years at West Virginia for John Beilein and could have parted ways in 2007 when Beilein left for Michigan and Bob Huggins became the Mountaineers’ new coach, but he said that was never a consideration for him or any of the guys on the team that year.
 
“We were so close as a team that it really didn’t matter who came in as the coach because we were also there for each other,” Nichols explained. “Yeah, it was a big deal getting a new coach, but we were so close as teammates that it wasn’t like the whole team left.”
 
Since his playing career ended in 2008 with a trip to the Sweet 16 under Huggins (he played on two Sweet 16 teams and an Elite Eight team during his four seasons at West Virginia), Nichols’ association with winning basketball teams has continued, most recently at Wofford last season.
 
“I think (Wofford) was successful because the guys liked being around each other outside of practice and outside of basketball,” Nichols admitted. “I think that was a big deal.”
 
Talent is immensely important, for sure, but don’t ever discount the value of team chemistry, especially in basketball where you are dealing with a much smaller group of players who are around each other all of the time.
 
Sometimes, players moving on can be beneficial to all parties involved. There are a couple of instances that stick out in my mind at West Virginia through the years when really good players choosing to move on had a positive effect on the team.
 
In this case, we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
 
In the meantime, enjoy your week and soak in some vitamin D.
 
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