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High hopes for the ’eers under new leadership

By Staff | Jul 27, 2011

Great Expectations.

It was assigned reading in my junior high English class.

Other than it being written by Charles Dickens and featuring some kid named Pip, I can’t recall another thing about it. Perhaps that’s because it was more than 40 years ago. (Then again, I do remember skipping school to watch the seventh game of the World Series, back when it was played during the daytime.)

But it is an appropriate title today for there certainly are Great Expectations being set by West Virginia University football fans regarding the rapidly-approaching 2011 season.

That’s not unusual. Mountaineer fans are eternal optimists. Given the success of the WVU football program over the past three decades, that’s only natural.

West Virginia is expected to win and to win consistently. It’s expected to compete for the Big East title and to end the season at a bowl game.

All of those seem like realistic goals for the 2011 campaign.

Plus, you will get no argument from me that the goal each and every year should be to win the national championship. I was preaching that long before it became fashionable at my alma mater, which still is waiting on its first national title even though it has been playing football for more than a century.

There’s nothing to get fans pumped up more than new names. After all, they know what to expect from those who already have been in the program. But let somebody new arrive on campus carrying some great credentials and the expectations go sky-high.

This year, rather than any single recruit, the name that has West Virginia fans anxiously counting the days to the season opener is Dana Holgorsen.

Although some West Virginia fans don’t like the way Holgorsen became the head coach of the Mountaineers (College athletics’ policing organization recently found that “failure to monitor” major violations occurred under two previous head coaches –Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart. However, the institution accepted West Virginia’s self-imposed penalties which included placing the school’s football program on two years of probation, from July 8, 2011 through July 7, 2013), even they can’t help but feel goose bumps at the prospect his offense will be as successful — or even more so — in Morgantown than it was at his previous two stops at Houston and Oklahoma State, where he served as offensive coordinator. If that proves to be the case, scoring records could fall.

Quarterback Geno Smith already is a proven winner. He’s a standout athlete who can run or throw the ball, whichever is necessary at the given moment. All indications are he has easily and successfully picked up Holgorsen’s offense and is ready to put up some huge numbers.

Yet, before we get too carried away -I’ve talked to Mountaineer fans who believe WVU will score 70 or more in the season opener against Marshall (a team that had WVU beat last year before Smith led the Mountaineers to a comeback win in overtime) -let’s throw a bit of caution into this prevailing wind.

WVU lost its leading running back, Noel Devine, from a year ago. It lost wide receiver Jock Sanders and tight end Will Johnson.

And since Parkersburg’s Josh Jenkins isn’t able to heal from the injury he incurred during the annual spring scrimmage, it will go into 2011 without a two-year starter on an offensive line that also lost Eric Jobe.

On many teams, those losses would be considered devastating. While you can’t totally shrug off such major questions, you can see where WVU has the talent in camp to quickly erase those question marks. Hopefully, that talent will get the necessary experience in the first two games against Marshall and Norfolk State to tackle the challenges that will be presented by a road trip to Maryland and a visit to Morgantown by LSU -which may bring with it the No. 1 ranking -and possibly, for the time ever, ESPN’s GameDay. Can’t you just see Lee Corso donning a coonskin cap and firing a musket?

Defensively, there are several holes to fill. The Mountaineers lost Scooter Berry, Chris Neild, Pat Lazear, J.T. Thomas, Brandon Hogan, Sidney Glover and Robert Sands. That’s a lot for any team to lose.

Again, rather than dwell on who is going to fill them, Mountaineer fans express extreme confidence in the ability of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to continue the standard of excellence he has established. And if the sight of Bruce Irvin rushing the opposing passer doesn’t get you fired up, then it’s likely nothing will.

Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the fall is the kicking game. If it is weak, it can and usually will cost you a game or two. We’ll all be holding our collective breaths that WVU shores up that position, or else some of that wild optimism may have to be tempered down several notches.

A rookie head coach. Major losses on both sides of the ball. A shaky kicking situation. That could be a recipe -or at least some of the ingredients – for impending disaster.

But West Virginia has established such a standard of annual excellence, it’s hard to see the program not maintaining its winning ways.

Talented coaches, a veteran quarterback and a favorable early schedule give West Virginia a chance to win every game it plays.

Talk about Great Expectations.

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