For the first time in 16 years West Virginia doesn’t have an obvious replacement at running back when the Mountaineers open spring football practice later this year. Beginning with Amos Zereoue in 1996, the Mountaineers have always had someone waiting in the wings to take over.
When Zereoue chose to forgo his senior season in 1999, WVU had a quality replacement ready to go in redshirt freshman Avon Cobourne (2009 Grey Cup MVP). When Cobourne graduated in 2002, Quincy Wilson was in place for the 2003 season. Then in 2004, Kay-Jay Harris was available following the departure of Wilson.
Harris’ replacement in 2005 was supposed to have been Jason Gwaltney, but it ended up being Steve Slaton instead. And then Noel Devine took over for Slaton in 2008. During that time West Virginia has had 1,000-yard rushers in 14 of the last 16 seasons.
This spring, offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has Ryan Clarke (291 yards), Shawne Alston (248 yards), Matt Lindamood (49 yards), Trey Johnson (42 yards) or Daquan Hargrett (14 yards) to choose from on the current roster, or he could look to this year’s February signing class to find a runner when fall training camp begins.
The guess here is that Holgorsen will deem Tavon Austin too valuable as a slot receiver to move back to running back.
By my count there are 36 bowl games being played this year, which is probably about 20 too many if you really think about it.
The reality is, however, that most of these games are just for ESPN programming anyway. Why else would the GoDaddy.com Bowl featuring Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio) be played tonight after the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls?
Also, the BBVA (formerly Papajohns.com) and the Kraft Fight Hunger (formerly Emerald) are being played this weekend leading into the BCS championship game on Monday night. Who really cares? Well, ESPN does because those games will still pull better ratings than anything else it can put on TV at those times – even if most of the games turn out to be duds (more on that later).
According to Media Life, ESPN’s coverage of last night’s Sugar Bowl was the second-highest overnight rating for a college football game in network history, the Ohio State-Arkansas game getting an 8.4 Nielsen rating. In Columbus alone, the game drew nearly 50 percent of that market; almost 250,000 unique viewers watched a live stream of the game on ESPN3.com.
That’s great numbers for cable but not necessarily for television in general. Last year, Fox had the Fiesta Bowl and ABC showed the Rose Bowl and TV ratings for those two games were much, much stronger than ESPN’s 11.7 rating for this year’s Rose Bowl and the 6.7 rating it got for the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, viewership declined 22% for the Fiesta Bowl and 15% for the Rose Bowl.
The Gator Bowl, which had a 4.3 rating for last year’s Florida State-West Virginia game that aired on CBS, got a 2.0 rating for its Mississippi State-Michigan matchup on ESPN2.
Poor matchups and teams without national followings are partly to blame. Being on cable instead of network television is probably a bigger factor.
ESPN is in year one of a four-year, $125 million agreement to televise BCS games.
Of the 30 bowl games played so far this year, 13 have ended with the winning margin being 20 points or more, including Alabama’s 42-point victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl and Mississippi State’s 38-point triumph over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Seventeen games have been decided by 10 points or more.
Of the BCS games, two were competitive – Ohio State downing Arkansas 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl and TCU holding on to knock off Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl; two were not – Oklahoma beating Connecticut 48-20 in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford routing Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Orange Bowl.
To date, the average margin of victory for this year's bowl games is 16 points, which incidentally was West Virginia's losing margin in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Those who study bowl game attendance expect there to be little or no change from last year’s overall attendance when the BCS game is finally played next Monday night, which is good news for college football during an economy still on the rebound.
Yet as of today more than half of the 30 bowl games played so far have experienced a decline in attendance (there were two new bowl games played this year). And of the 16 games that have experienced an attendance decline, four have involved Big East schools. There was a drop of 9,746 spectators for Louisville’s game against Southern Miss in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (formerly the St. Petersburg Bowl), the Meineke Car Care Bowl had a dip of 9,267 fans, the Champs Sports Bowl was down 7,785 and the Fiesta Bowl with Connecticut declined 5,995 spectators.
The conference still has the BBVA Compass Bowl (formerly the Papajohns.com Bowl) this weekend, but it likely won’t get a boost from Pitt’s game against Kentucky with the Panthers currently going through another coaching search.
On the plus side, Syracuse’s game against Kansas State in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl drew 38,274 fans and was among the top 15 of any debuting bowl game.
The largest decrease in attendance of any bowl game was the Gator, which drew a record 84,129 for its Florida State-West Virginia matchup in 2010. This year’s Gator Bowl featuring Michigan and Mississippi State attracted 68,325 fans, a decline of 15,804.
The Poinsettia Bowl was the biggest winner, gaining 15,384 spectators for its San Diego State-Navy matchup. Keep in mind, though, that the Poinsettia Bowl is located in San Diego where there is also a large military presence.
I am not sure who is going to get the Pitt football job this time around but it’s obvious the Pittsburgh media is campaigning hard for Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. It will be interesting to see which direction Steve Pederson/Mark Nordenberg decides/decide to go following the 16-day tenure of Mike Haywood.
For those of you thinking Pitt’s current circumstances are too difficult to overcome, just think back to where the West Virginia basketball program was in 2002 when Dan Dakich left after only seven days on the job. Things turned out OK for the Mountaineers with John Beilein, and certainly now with Bob Huggins.
One Pitt supporter complained to me that the Panthers have had a long history of shooting itself in the foot when it comes to coaching searches. This time, however, instead of shooting off its foot they used a cannon to blow off the entire leg. Probably a little extreme, but I thought that was a pretty good line nonetheless.
Rutgers has taken advantage of the Pittsburgh Purge by scooping up Frank Cignetti to run its offense and claiming top New Jersey recruiter Jeff Hafley to assume a yet-to-be-determined spot on the Scarlet Knight defense.
Greg Schiano figures if you can’t beat ‘em, then hire ‘em.
One of the things I sometimes hear from the West Virginia old-timers is their wish of having more bowl games available back when they played. In 1955 there were just seven bowl games and by 1965, the number had increased to nine; there were still only 11 bowl games by 1975.
During that time period there were several West Virginia football teams that would have qualified for bowls had the current system been in place. Between 1950 and 1971, I counted at least eight Mountaineer teams that were good enough to make bowl games with one - Art Lewis’ 1954 team that went 8-1 - probably good enough to qualify for a BCS game.
Here are West Virginia’s forgotten eight:
1952 (7-2): Recorded a win over nationally ranked Pitt and also won at South Carolina
1954 (8-1): Had wins over Penn State and South Carolina and just a 13-10 defeat to Pitt on homecoming on its record
1955 (8-2): Defeated Penn State and lost to only Pitt and Syracuse when starting quarterback Freddy Wyant got injured
1957 (7-2-1): Beat Pitt and Syracuse and lost to just Penn State and Wisconsin with a 6-6 tie coming against Virginia in the season opener
1962 (8-2): Beat Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Pitt and Syracuse and lost to just Penn State and Oregon State
1968 (7-3): Beat Pitt and Syracuse and lost to Penn State, Virginia Tech and Kentucky
1970 (8-3): Defeated Indiana and Syracuse and lost to Duke, Pitt and Penn State
1971 (7-4): Defeated Boston College, Pitt and Temple and lost to Cal, Penn State, Duke and Syracuse
I asked women’s basketball coach Mike Carey after Sunday’s lackluster first-half performance against Central Connecticut State if he was getting concerned about having a No. 1 scoring option heading into the heart of the Big East schedule. He said he wasn’t because his top scorer, senior Liz Repella, was still making the hustle plays that he is always looking for from his best players.
Heading into yesterday’s game at Seton Hall, Repella was shooting just 37% from the floor and 30.3% from 3, but she found her shooting stroke against the Pirates, hitting 10 of 16 overall including 4 of 7 from behind the arc to score a season-high 24 points. Repella boosted her scoring average to 14.3 points per game and is now getting closer to 40% shooting from the floor.
When you look at the top five women’s basketball teams in the country, the profile West Virginia most closely fits is No. 3 Duke. The Blue Devils don’t have a prolific scorer (Jasmine Thomas is averaging 14.9 ppg.) and rely mostly on their defense, holding teams to an average of 53.4 points per game.
Sixth-ranked West Virginia is limiting opponents to an average of 46.4 points per game and no team has yet to score 60 on the Mountaineers.
All five teams in this week’s AP top 5 are holding their opponents to less than 60 points per game.
This has kind of slipped people’s attention, but do you realize that the West Virginia women have now won 44 of their last 50 games? The Mountaineers have a 27-game winning streak at the Coliseum dating back to the 2009 season, and have a streak of 17 consecutive games with more than 1,000 in attendance.
Perhaps a crowd exceeding 3,000 will show up on Saturday to see West Virginia take on Cincinnati at 4 p.m. It is the season debut of WVPS women’s basketball coverage for 2011 with Hoppy Kercheval and Warren Baker once again on the call.
Bob Huggins sure enjoys taking the hard road. Consider this: The combined record of the non-conference opponents West Virginia has played so far this year is 97-48 (66.9%). Add 14-1 Purdue and 10-4 Marshall to that and the record becomes 121-53 (69.5%).
And when you include West Virginia’s 18 Big East games, the combined mark right now of West Virginia’s 30 opponents is 316-117 (73%). The Mountaineers have only faced two teams with losing records (Robert Morris and DePaul) so far with just three more likely on the horizon: 6-9 USF, 7-8 Seton Hall and 6-9 DePaul.
Here are the current records of the remaining seven Big East teams West Virginia plays on the road: 12-3 Georgetown, 12-2 Louisville, 14-0 Cincinnati, 12-1 Villanova, 15-0 Syracuse, 14-1 Pitt and 9-5 Rutgers. Add them up and the combined record is 88-12.
This will undoubtedly go down as one of the toughest schedules any WVU basketball team has ever faced.
Years from now, do you think Devin Ebanks will get the credit he deserves for the work he did on defense to help West Virginia get to the Final Four? There is no question everyone will remember Da’Sean Butler’s role as a scorer, ball handler and clutch shooter, but it was Ebanks who always guarded the opposing team’s best offensive player (including point guards) and it was Ebanks who usually pulled down the critical rebound when the Mountaineers needed it most. Those things are often forgotten in time.
I know Bob Huggins hasn’t forgotten how important Ebanks was to his team, particularly late in games this year when he is dialing up defenses to try and stop teams.
For those of you concerned about Saturday’s game against Georgetown in the Verizon Center maybe this will help: West Virginia has won its last three games in that facility under Huggins, beating Arizona and Duke in the 2008 NCAA tournament and knocking off Georgetown two seasons ago.
Have a great weekend!
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Bob Huggins: Gonzaga Postgame
Bob Huggins: Gonzaga Preview
Fairleigh Dickinson Highlights
Mike Carey: Fairleigh Dickinson Postgame