July 6-12 Blog

  • July 12, 2008 10:15 AM
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Running the Table
Posted By John Antonik: July 12, 2008 (12:49 pm)

If recent history is any indicator, expect the 2008 Big East football champion to have at least one loss and the chances are better than 50-50 that the conference could have another split champion this fall.

Since 2002, there have only been two outright Big East champions (Louisville in 2006 and West Virginia in 2005) and only once during that time has the conference winner run the table (West Virginia in 2005).

Last year’s Big East winner finished with two league losses (West Virginia and Connecticut) as did the 2004 champion, which wound up being a four-way tie between Pitt, Boston College, West Virginia and Syracuse. Pitt got the Big East’s BCS berth on the basis of tiebreakers when Boston College lost at Syracuse in its final conference game before joining the ACC.

In 2003, both Miami and West Virginia finished the season with 6-1 conference records but the Hurricanes wound up getting the BCS bid by beating West Virginia head-to-head in come-from-behind fashion.

Prior to 2002, the conference had just two split champions in 1995 and 1996 during the time when Miami was on probation. Virginia Tech and Miami shared the league title with 6-1 records in 1995, and Syracuse and Virginia Tech had identical 6-1 records in 1996.

Five times during a span of 10 seasons from 1993-2002 the Big East champion has run the table. Miami did it in 1994, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

West Virginia ran the table in 1993, and Virginia Tech went undefeated in conference play in 1999.

Only Miami and West Virginia have run the table more than once in Big East history.

Daily Ramblings
Posted By John Antonik: July 9, 2008 (2:49 pm)

  Harry Clarke

The Sun Bowl recently named its 75 most outstanding players in celebration of its 75-year history of the bowl game. Among those cited was the late Harry “Flash” Clarke, West Virginia’s outstanding running back of the late 1930s. Clarke ran for more than 100 yards in the Mountaineers’ 7-6 victory over Texas Tech during the 1937 Sun Bowl, and would have had well over 200 if a holding penalty wasn’t called on Clarke’s 92-yard touchdown run.

Clarke later played professionally for the Chicago Bears where he was named to the all-pro team. Clarke owns the unique distinction of being inducted into three different state halls of fame: West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Mountaineers had a hand in Thurman Thomas making the all-time Sun Bowl team in 1987 as well. Thomas burned West Virginia for 157 yards and four touchdowns in leading Oklahoma State to a 35-33 victory on Christmas Day.

West Virginia appeared in three Sun Bowls in 1938, 1949 and 1987. It ties the Sugar for the third-most WVU appearances at a single bowl. The Mountaineers have made six Gator Bowl appearances since 1982 and have gone to four Peach Bowls, the most recent being in 1981.

  • Yesterday Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick Joe Alexander signed a contract that will pay him just over $2 million per year, according to the NBA’s rookie salary schedule. The former West Virginia forward was the eighth overall player selected in last month’s NBA draft. He is scheduled to play for the Bucks in the NBA’s two-week summer league that takes place in Las Vegas this month.

  • Former West Virginia pitcher Dustin Nippert is back in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers, where he recently allowed one run during a seven-inning relief stint against the Anaheim Angels. Nippert came up with the Arizona Diamondbacks and appeared in 41 career games with the Diamondbacks from 2005-07 before being traded to Texas two days before the start of the 2008 campaign.

    Nippert was pitching at Triple-A Oklahoma City before his call up on July 5 when Joaquin Benoit was placed on the disabled list. Nippert was 6-2 at Oklahoma City with a 3.98 earned run average in 63 1/3 innings pitched. Nippert recently pitched a seven-inning no-hitter on July 29 against Omaha, and also celebrated the birth of his first child earlier this spring.

    “I had a baby. I got traded. I was erratic," Nippert told Fort Worth Star Telegram blogger Jeff Wilson. "Now, I can finally sit back and take a breath. I just want to prove I belong.”

    Nippert pitched one year for West Virginia in 2002 before being selected in the 15th round by the Diamondbacks.

    Nippert makes his off-season home in Beallsville, Ohio.

  • It’s difficult to believe this year marks the 20th anniversary of West Virginia’s first undefeated, untied football team in 1988. That squad rose to as high as No. 3 in the rankings and met No. 1-ranked Notre Dame in the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl to determine the national championship.

    Notre Dame defeated the Mountaineers 34-21 for Coach Lou Holtz’s only national title.

    If you recall, Miami coach Jimmy Johnson was pulling for a West Virginia victory so he could argue that his Hurricanes deserved the national title. Miami lost 31-30 at Notre Dame before knocking off Nebraska, 23-3 in the Orange Bowl to finish the year 11-1.

    The 1988 season was the first time in school history West Virginia finished the year ranked in the Top 5. It was also just the second time ever that the Mountaineers were able to go wire to wire in the national rankings, beginning that season ranked 16th.

  • Many of those tied to the 1988 team are still with the Mountaineer program or have returned. Among those still on staff include defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich, assistant athletic director and WVU football administrator Mike Kerin, football administrative assistant Donnie Young, team equipment manager Dan Nehlen and team medical coordinator John Spiker.

    Returning to WVU are coaches Doc Holliday and Steve Dunlap, as well as Dave Lockwood who was a defensive back on the 1988 team.

      Bill Kirelawich

    Speaking of Kirelawich, no West Virginia coach has been involved in more Mountaineer football history than the Frackville, Pa., native. Kirelawich was around for both undefeated regular seasons in 1988 and 1993, as well as the present run of three straight Top 10 finishes including a pair of BCS bowl wins over Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

    Kirelawich also took part in the major upset victories over Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl and the 1982 season-opening win over Oklahoma in Norman. The modest Kirelawich would say it is just coincidental, but we know better.

  • Other notable football anniversaries taking place this year include: 15th anniversary of West Virginia’s 11-0 regular season in 1993 that led to an appearance in the 1994 USF&G Insurance Sugar Bowl; the 25th anniversary of West Virginia’s 20-16 victory over Kentucky in the 1983 Hall of Fame Bowl; the 45th anniversary of the integration of West Virginia University athletics when Dick Leftridge and Roger Alford broke the school and Southern Conference color barrier; the 55th anniversary of West Virginia’s 8-1 regular season that resulted in the school’s first-ever major bowl appearance in the Sugar Bowl; the 60th anniversary of the 1948 season the led to West Virginia’s 21-12 victory over Texas Western (Texas El Paso) in the 1949 Sun Bowl; the 70th anniversary of West Virginia’s 7-6 victory over Texas Tech in the 1938 Sun Bowl and the 80th anniversary of West Virginia’s great 9-6 victory over Jock Sutherland-coached Pitt in 1928.

    A Decade’s Worth of Rankings
    Posted By John Antonik: July 7, 2008 (5:10 pm)

    What do the Big East and the Pac 10 have in common? They are the only two BCS conferences since 2000 to have all of its members ranked in the Top 25 for at least one week.

    Washington and Stanford have been down recently in the Pac 10 but they have both managed to crack the polls during the decade - Stanford in 2002 and Washington as late as 2003.

    Syracuse has also struggled of late, but the Orange did finish the 2001 season ranked 14th in the AP poll.

    What both conferences have been able to avoid is a perpetual bottom feeder like Vanderbilt in the SEC, Duke in the ACC, Indiana in the Big Ten and Baylor in the Big 12.

    Last year was a memorable season for the Big East, which saw two schools (USF and Connecticut) crack the polls for the first time in its history and Cincinnati make a return to the rankings after a long exodus.

    At one time or another last year, six of the eight Big East schools made an appearance in the Top 25 with South Florida and West Virginia each rising to as high as No. 2 in the AP poll. The Mountaineers actually reached No. 1 for one week in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll before their upset loss to Pitt in the season finale.

    West Virginia and Louisville have been the two marquee Big East football programs during the decade. The Mountaineers have made 62 appearances in the rankings since 2000 including a league-best 34 weeks in the Top 10. Louisville has been ranked 60 weeks since 2000 with 22 appearances in the Top 10. Of course, four of Louisville’s seasons were spent playing in Conference-USA.

    Other Big East schools in the rankings since 2000: Pitt 23 times, Rutgers 19, Cincinnati and USF nine times, Syracuse eight and Connecticut four.

    Interestingly, five of the eight Big East teams have been ranked in the Top 10 during the decade and four of the five (West Virginia, USF, Louisville and Rutgers) spent at least one week in the Top 10 during the 2007 season.

    Pitt’s last Top 10 visit came in 2003.

    West Virginia and Louisville have each finished the season ranked four times: Louisville in 2001 (17th), 2004 (6th), 2005 (19th) and 2006 (6th) and West Virginia in 2002 (25th), 2005 (5th), 2006 (10th) and 2007 (6th).

    Pitt finished 2002 ranked 19th and 2004 ranked 25th, Syracuse finished 2001 ranked 14th, Rutgers finished 2006 ranked 12th and Cincinnati finished 2007 ranked 20th.

    Only Connecticut and USF have failed to finish a season in the finals rankings.

    Stadium Expansion

    With it being summertime and not much else going on, I have noticed some message board chatter about the need to add more seats to Milan Puskar Stadium. Some have even gone as far as mentioning adding 20,000 seats to bring the stadium capacity up to 80,000.

    Before getting too carried away consider this:

  • Since 1985 when the stadium was initially expanded to 63,500 and later reduced to 60,000 when the end zone suites were completed in 2004, 45 times the Mountaineers were able to draw more than 60,000 for a home football game. One hundred forty four football home football games have been played during that span of time, meaning 32.1 percent of the time West Virginia has attracted crowds of more than 60,000. The Mountaineers had their streak of eight-straight 60,000-plus crowds snapped last year against Connecticut, and 2007 was the first time in school history attendance for five home football games reached 60,000 in the same season.

    West Virginia hit the 60,000 figure four times in 2007 - and only on two other occasions in 1989 and 1988 when Heisman Trophy candidate Major Harris was playing for the Mountaineers. Two times in 1999 and 2002 West Virginia failed to attract a crowd of at least 60,000 for the entire year.

    The all-time single-game attendance record is 70,222 set in 1993 against Miami. Ten times in Milan Puskar Stadium history West Virginia has cracked the 66,000 mark in single-game attendance.

    There is going to have to be a steady stream of future home sellouts before West Virginia even entertains the notion of adding more seats.

    Catching Up
    Posted By John Antonik: July 7, 2008 (11:21 am)

    When you’ve been away for a week there is plenty of catching up to do so let’s get caught up:

      Oliver Luck

  • Gov. Joe Manchin recently named former Mountaineer great Oliver Luck to West Virginia University’s Board of Governors.

    Luck is presently operating the most successful franchise in Major League Soccer. The Houston Dynamos have won the last two MLS titles and are presently tied with Real Salt Lake for third place in the Western Division standings one point behind league-leading Los Angeles.

  • We received the sad news of the recent passing of former Mountaineer defensive back Rich Martha to lung cancer. Martha was a three-year letterman at WVU from 1963-65 and played on the 1964 team that upset No. 9-ranked Syracuse and played Utah in the Liberty Bowl.

    Martha came to West Virginia from Wilkinsburg, where he led Wilkinsburg High to the 1961 WPIAL title. His brother Paul was a halfback at Pitt, giving new meaning to the West Virginia-Pitt rivalry known as the “Backyard Brawl.”

    Paul Martha’s late 46-yard touchdown run helped Pitt defeat West Virginia, 13-10, in Morgantown in 1963. During that game, Rich’s mother sat on the West Virginia side of the stadium while his father sat on the Pitt side.

    Martha later served in the Marine Corps and played briefly with the Miami Dolphins. He returned to Pittsburgh where he became a successful accountant and helped started a youth hockey league.

      Mark Booras

  • Former Mountaineer standout Mark Booras was recently named head men’s tennis coach at Tulane University. Booras was a four-year letterman at WVU from 1989-93 where he was named Atlantic 10 player of the year in 1993. In each of his final three seasons at WVU Booras competed in both the NCAA singles and doubles championship tournaments. Booras was a Top 20 singles and doubles player throughout his collegiate career.

    Following college, Booras joined the ATP tour and was ranked as high as No. 240 in the world in doubles and 700 in singles. Booras joined the LSU coaching staff in 1999 and served as associate head coach for his final four seasons at Baton Rouge before taking the Tulane job. Booras helped LSU to 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances with a Final Four appearance and four Sweet 16 trips.

    The Chicago native received his bachelor’s degree from WVU in liberal arts in 1997 and a master’s degree in sport psychology in 2001.

  • D’or Fischer is playing for the Orlando Magic in this year’s NBA Summer League taking place July 7-11 at the Magic practice courts at RDV Sportsplex.

    Fischer has spent time in the NBA Developmental League and playing in Europe after spending two seasons at West Virginia in 2005-06. Fischer’s best season came in 2005 when he averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in helping the Mountaineers reach the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.

    Joe Alexander will be playing in Las Vegas with Milwaukee, July 11-20 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Those games will be carried on NBA TV.

  • Fairmont Times sports columnist Bob Hertzel wrote last week that West Virginia is expected to break the $50 million mark in expenditures this year. And according to Charleston Daily Mail Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk, that figure places West Virginia third among Big East schools in expenditures just behind Louisville ($54.6 million) and Connecticut ($52.8 million).

    Two years ago Ohio State’s athletic budget topped $100 million.

      Hot Rod Hundley

  • Former WVU sports information director Rene Henry is trying to get a movie made of Hot Rod Hundley’s life. Henry is focusing primarily on Hot Rod’s difficult childhood as an orphan living on the streets of Charleston. Henry, now living in Seattle, is getting input from Hundley and several of his teammates. Although funding is still incomplete, Henry hopes to begin the project this fall.

    Hundley recently signed a five-year contract extension to announce Utah Jazz games until his 79th birthday.

  • West Virginia women’s track coach Sean Cleary shakes his head when considering the dramatic improvement Keri Bland has made since joining the WVU program two years ago. The North Marion High School product has cut more than a minute off her fastest time in the 1,500-meter run to become one of the country’s top milers. Bland recently set a PR of 4:16.05 at the U.S. Olympic Trials where she placed 15th. The sophomore was the third-fastest collegian, finishing behind Baylor’s Lauren Hagans and Tennessee’s Sarah Bowman.

    Bland and teammates Marie-Louise Asselin and Clara Grandt will give West Virginia the country’s best one-two-three distance punch next season. Asselin, an indoor All-American in the 3,000, took a redshirt during the outdoor season.

    Those three runners provide the nucleus for West Virginia’s nationally ranked cross country team that finished second at NCAA regionals and ninth at nationals. The Mountaineers are favorites to repeat as Big East champions and also have a shot at competing for a national team title in 2008.

  • I know I say this every year about the football media guide and I am going to say it again this year: WVU Publications Director Joe Swan and assistant Tim Goodenow have once again outdone themselves. The very best of Mountaineer football is captured in this year’s 208-page edition.

    Copies should be available to the public before August.

    Disney Vacation
    Posted By John Antonik: July 6, 2008 (10:21 am)

    I took the family on a vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Actually the wife told me I was going with them on a vacation to Disney World. That’s the reason there was no Campus Connection last week.

    Just as the Griswolds did when they traveled cross country to Wally World, we decided to hop in the Family Truckster and make the 14-hour drive from Morgantown to Orlando. It was an opportunity to do some family bonding along the way.

    We bonded all right.

    By the time we reached Beckley, West Virginia, we had successfully mitigated a dispute with the five-year-old over, of all things, the Looney Tunes DVD, and the seven-year-old was demanding snacks by 9:30 - in the morning.

    Two melt-downs later, we made it to Brunswick, Georgia, where we finally called it a night.

    Early the next afternoon we rolled into the Disney resort “Pop Culture.” The wife said she got a good deal. Each building is named after a different era in pop culture. We stayed in the 1970s building and I think we ended up getting the Juice Newton suite.

    Take a minute and walk into your closet, turn on the light and look around. What you are seeing is bigger than the room the four of us stayed in. They call it marketing – small room means more time spent outside of it.

    Disney knows marketing.

    The first thing you do to get to and from your room is go through the gift shop. Conservatively, that means 15-20 trips in and out of there for a four-night stay. Try taking a five-year-old past a $75 Mickey Mouse train 15 times and see if you can leave the place without owning one.

    And when you finally get to the park can you guess what everyone passes?

    That’s right, another gift shop.

      The five-year-old and the seven-year-old with Captain Hook at Disney World.
    Submitted photo

    This time Walt’s take is $26 American for two autograph books and matching Mickey Mouse pens so the five-year-old and the seven-year-old can have Jimmy Smith from Knoxville, Tennessee, sign Captain Hook in their books.

    About 15 of us stalked Mickey Mouse and finally cornered him near the water fountain where he couldn't escape. Sign this or else!

    What can you get for a Mickey Mouse autograph on eBay these days anyway?

    After spending 10 hours in Magic Kingdom I can honestly say it was one of the two or three most physically grueling things that I have ever done in my life. I rate it right up there with working construction or doing up-downs at the end of a second football practice in August.

    Our journey through the park was made even more difficult because we chose not to get the complimentary $15 stroller to push the five-year-old around. I think my little guy gained 15 pounds by the end of the day.

    When we chose to do this again the very next day can you guess what we purchased?

    Yes, the complimentary $15 stroller. And guess what, someone tried to steal it from us when we took a ride on the Jungle Cruise. The wife, a New Yorker by birth and a firm believer in justice, was on that one and tracked them down before they could escape. It was an honest mistake the wife said, failing to mention that our name tag was displayed prominently for everyone to see.

    I am of the opinion that Walt Disney is one of the great visionaries of all time. Where else can you willingly pay a lot of money to spend 80 percent of your time standing in line?

    The very first ride we went on was Splash Mountain. That took an hour and a half for what amounted to a two-minute ride. The plan was for me to sit in the front seat with our seven-year-old and the five-year-old would sit behind us with the wife. Thankfully, Splash Mountain has an escape exit because the five-year-old had an epiphany just as they were about to lock us into our seats.

    The wife took that one for the team.

    Payback came later when I had to wait two hours in the middle of the afternoon for the Peter Pan ride. People at the park say it was cool for that time of the year. If I had to guess I would say it was easily 97 in the shade. But it was a cool 97. For some reason Disney doesn’t post daytime temperatures in the park.

    The park itself is immaculate. That’s because Carl Spackler has given up his dream of becoming an assistant green’s keeper to work for Disney. It’s true, I saw him cutting the grass at Main Street USA.

    One other thing: the commemorative Mickey Mug that everyone was buying at the resort dining area for a mere $12.49 turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. Not only are you getting a great mug that you will never use again, but as an added bonus they let you fill it up as many times as you’d like for the duration of your stay. The problem is every time you go to fill up the mug you wind up spending an additional $20 on food.

    I have never had to sell blood to pay for a family vacation but when the Visa bill comes at the end of the month I may have to.

    Disney is a great way to spend some time with your family. Just don’t forget to bring your wallet. And fly.