Can a team that has lost as much offensive firepower as West Virginia has since last year be as successful? Or, perhaps even more successful?
The short answer is no – and yes.
Of course, it is highly improbable that this current group of Mountaineers is going to match the massive production put forth in 2012 by record-setting players Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Those three names take up a significant portion of the WVU record book and two of the three - Smith and Austin – are expected to go in the first round of this year’s NFL draft. If they do, that will be a West Virginia first.
But there have been instances through the years when less talented teams have achieved more on the football field one season after sustaining a substantial loss of talent.
Take the 2005 Mountaineer team, for instance. Until Pat White and Steve Slaton came alive during the Louisville game, most Mountaineer fans were still lamenting the early departures of Pacman Jones and Chris Henry.
Back in 1993, West Virginia achieved its second undefeated, untied regular season in school history with a team not nearly as talented as the ’92 squad that won five, lost four and tied two. If you recall, that ’92 squad featured consensus All-American center Mike Compton and a pair of NFL starters in Adrian Murrell and James Jett, not to mention a record-setting NFL kicker in Mike Vanderjagt.
Yet the ’93 team was able to overcome those losses by simply sticking together and getting the breaks that the ’92 team didn’t get to run the table against a pretty formidable regular season schedule – one very comparable to what West Virginia is facing today in the Big 12.
For those of you a bit older, the 1974-75 seasons were a good example of how different things can be. The ’74 Mountaineer squad, which won just four games, was clearly the more talented of the two with top-shelf players such as Danny Buggs, Tree Adams, Charlie Miller, Marshall Mills and Jeff Merrow, but the ’75 team was able to stick together and win nine games, including a 13-10 victory over NC State in the Peach Bowl.
What the ’75 team did, and what this year’s team must do, is pull together and take on an all-for-one-one-for-all attitude.
“This team is full of people that nobody has ever heard of and I like that,” noted senior nose tackle Shaq Rowell. “We’re going to just have to work hard. A lot of championship teams, besides Alabama, you can’t name any guys on those teams. That’s what we need to do this year.”
“It feels like we are all fighting from the bottom and we just all want our respect so we can draw together because none of us have any respect yet,” added junior running back Andrew Buie.
It’s easy for fans to get excited about their team when they read about their star players on the Internet on a daily basis, but great teams aren’t built on their press clippings. Instead, great teams are built through hard work on the football field and a willingness to play for each other.
Senior Darwin Cook has seen quite a bit during his three seasons at WVU and he believes this year’s group has the willingness to pull together for a common cause.
“I feel like we are going to do big things this year,” he predicted. “Just like when I was in high school we had all the talent my junior year and my senior year when we came back we were more of a team, more friends, and we bonded. Little do people know, but that makes a huge difference – a HUGE difference and I’m just looking forward to what the season brings.”
“We have a lot of good guys who want to be great,” added Rowell. “Last year, we had Geno, Tavon and Stedman and those guys could run routes in their sleep and Geno could throw it to them. This year, we’ve got to work harder than those guys because those guys were blessed with the talent.”
It’s no more “let’s just watch Geno do it” or “just give the ball to Tavon” or “throw it deep to Stedman” … all 11 guys on both sides of the football must pull their oars in the same direction in order for this year’s team to be successful. If it doesn’t, it won’t.
“We’ve lost all that firepower and we’ve all got to come together,” said Rowell. “We don’t have those guys anymore. I feel like this team is going to be a better tight-knit group just because we don’t have that much firepower as we did last year and we know we’ve got to work together like a puzzle - everybody has to put their piece together in order for it to work. And that’s the only way for it to work.
“We are nowhere near, talent-wise, as good as last year. Period. We lost a lot of people from last year.”
Junior running back Dustin Garrison says it’s on the veteran players to set the tone for the younger guys.
“That’s what we need … the guys who have played games the younger guys look up to them and I think that’s important for this team to have all those guys who have played to help the younger guys,” he said.
“We’re definitely more of a team now as a unit. Guys care about each other more,” added Buie.
Just how well the Mountaineers will perform this fall remains to be seen, but all of the players so far are saying and doing the right things – and that’s certainly a good start.
Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.
West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Mountaineer football, Shaq Rowell, Darwin Cook, Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison
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