Fearless Picks: WVU - USF

Fearless Picks: WVU - USF

There's a tie atop our standings, and some interesting picks of the score in this week's hurry-up predictions.

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

West Virginia's highest point total since the Villanova game caught a few of our pickers off guard, as no one had a selection closer than 12 points. Still, Brian's 37-10 selection gave him weekly honors in an otherwise non-descript week. Only Keno selected WVU to top the 40-point mark, which, given WVU's recent scoring history, was a bold move that was rewarded in the standings.

Patrick and Keno are now tied atop the standings, and the duo has opened up an 11-point margin on Matt and Chris, with Taylor and Cam still close.


NOSE PICKING

Again there wasn't too much to complain about from last week's picks. Jane's point differential of 21 was the worst of the week, but given WVU's scoring issues at times, it was difficult to pick the Mountaineers to roll up the score that they did. (Plus, her usual wry takes on games are always highlights.)


Patrick Southern Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 54
Historically (if one can use that word given the series' brief, five-year past), USF has given West Virginia a tremendous amount of trouble. The Mountaineers are 1-3 in their last four outings against the Bulls, a statistic that's been repeated ad-nauseum in the short span of time since the squad vanquished UNLV on Saturday. But even the first game the teams played against each other, which came in the 2005 regular season finale (WVU had already clinched the Big East Conference championship and the Sugar Bowl berth that came along with it) was an oddly-close 28-13 win that required a heavy dose of Pat White's heroics to secure.

Indeed, USF was always a step ahead of other teams when it came to defending the Mountaineers' spread-option attack. West Virginia was held under 30 points only six times from the time White became the team's permanent starter at quarterback in leading WVU to a 46-44 triple-overtime win over Louisville in 2005 until the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma that ended the 2007-08 campaign. Three of those six occasions came in each of the Mountaineers' meetings with the Bulls -- and not coincidentally, two of those games (2006 and 2007) were WVU losses.

But times have changed, you say, right? West Virginia's offense is now much different than the run-oriented spread option of those days, and USF now has a new coach in Skip Holtz. What do any of those statistics have to do with this game? Not much. But they're fun to look at -- especially when you realize one of the other three times the Mountaineers of those days were held under 30 points came against a Holtz-coached East Carolina squad in 2006.

Alright, enough rambling.

Pick: West Virginia 27-10
 
Keenan Cummings Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 54
Yes, I know the Bulls have had West Virginia's number. But this is Morgantown, with a gold rush, at night. WVU is hungry and I expect it to get on the board early and pull away late with a balanced offensive attack and a swarming defense.

Sorry Skip, not this year.

Pick: West Virginia 28-10
 
Matt Keller Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 65
West Virginia should be able to at least manufacture a decent running game against the Bulls depending upon how it attacks. WVU's strength isn't lining up and pounding, but there will be times this game it needs to do so. The majority, though, it will be matching its speed and upgraded passing game against the similar speed overall speed and very solid South Florida secondary. That means doses of Ryan Clarke and some power mixed with misdirection and hitting passing plays across the defense and down the field as the match-ups present.

Defensively, it must contain B.J. Daniels much more effectively than it did last season while covering better as well. The first part should be reasonable, as WVU has solid line play and speed along the linebackers and spur and bandit slots. It also has an excellent edge rusher it can utilize at times in Bruce Irvin. But if it can't cover downfield, most of that won't make any difference. Look for the Mountaineers to play better in the secondary than it did in Tampa last year and for it to hold USF to between 17 and 24 points. That should be enough to win -- if WVU doesn't turn it over multiple times. This is a game in which its foe can defeat it, but it will need help. At home on a Thursday, the Mountaineers get this one.

Pick: West Virginia 27-17
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 65
You've gotta love watching the still-young football program South Florida. Its like a young actor that can't stay out of rehab: seemingly destined for stardom, if it could only get out of its own way. They're located in THE football recruiting hotbed of the Eastern seaboard, and one of the top three recruiting areas in the country. They've had big wins (mostly over the Mountaineers), and of all the major conferences, they reside in that which has the shortest, most direct and uncomplicated path to the BCS. Yet they can't get over the hump. And at this point, with the future of the Big East still somewhat in peril as conference realignment continues to rear its ugly head, one has to wonder if they'll ever realize their full potential.

I'll give the Bulls athletic administration this, though: they definitely made the right hire in Louis "Skip" Holtz. They'll take a few lumps this year, but over the long haul, I think they're better off with Holtz at the helm than they were with Jim Leavitt. As for this game, it takes a special team to come into Morgantown and win at night. From what I've seen so far this year, USF is anything but special. On the flipside, the Mountaineers continue to sit at the head of the table as the prohibitive Big East favorite. And while I never like to see Mountaineer Field at anything less than full capacity, keep in mind that the 2003 game against Virginia Tech was played in front of just 56,000 fans...and that was when the stadium still sat 63,500. Midweek night games bring out most the diehards and cut out some of the dead weight that just shows up on Saturdays because its what's going on.

Pick: West Virginia 31-13
 
Taylor Jones Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 67
The Mountaineers begin the "real" part of their season on Thursday night as they open up Big East play against South Florida. While the Bulls have proven to be a difficult opponent to West Virginia in the past, the Mountaineers seem to be in the driver's seat to win the conference at this point -- and that will obviously begin with a victory on Thursday night. While South Florida is in a rebuilding year with a new head coach, Skip Holtz is familiar with facing the Mountaineers and will no doubt be more prepared than many first year head coaches. It will no doubt be good for West Virginia to play on Thursday, as they will have the majority of their team back on the field after battling various injuries throughout the season.
Pick: West Virginia 35-17
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 68
When you look at it on paper, this one should be a Mountaineer runaway. West Virginia seems as though it is playing pretty good football at this point in the season, and South Florida just lost to Syracuse - and we're not even talking basketball here. But USF has always given the Mountaineers fits. Last year, quarterback B.J. Daniels, who looked average, at best, in the weeks before and after the meeting with WVU, looked like a Heisman candidate against the Mountaineers. The only loss in 2007, other than the obvious one, came against USF, and the 2006 meeting was one to forget as well. Combine those painful memories with the success new Skip Holtz has always had against WVU squads, and even the familiarity of defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, the former Marshall coach, and this one may be a little closer than most believe. I'm confident that this group of Mountaineers can get the job done, but I wouldn't bet the farm on covering the spread.
Pick: West Virginia 30-20
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 78
In the past, scrambling quarterbacks have often hurt WVU (and admittedly plenty of others), and Daniels is very dangerous. The Bulls have traditionally given West Virginia fits, and there is no reason to expect this one will come any easier. If WVU can avoid turnovers (a big if), its offense should be able to move the ball, but the Mountaineers can't make mistakes and still win.
Pick: West Virginia 24-21
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: W Season: 5-0 Pt Diff: 81
The pre-season is now officially over. Now the real meatless portion of the schedule begins.

South Florida comes storming in off a tremendous showing over perennial powerhouse Syracuse in front of 30 or 40 of their most rabid family members. Moral victories are frowned upon here in Morgantown, but such a fine performance in a 13-9 loss to four time Big East champion Syracuse can do nothing but give all those empty red seats fuel for the direction of the program under the new regime. Coming off a 39-point pasting of one of the worst college football programs to ever set foot in Morgantown, at least until September 13, 2011, the Mountaineers seem rested and refreshed and poised to be more healthy than at any point since the beginning of the season.

The return of Brad Starks against UNLV gives WVU yet another weapon in the continuing emergence of Geno Smith and the Billy Stewart Traveling Air Show and Motorcade. Josh Jenkins appears set to reclaim his spot on the offensive line after a three-week layoff and other than a papercut Brandon Hogan suffered while opening a bag of skittles on the sideline last week, the Mountaineers appear to be in full health.

Both teams come into the game with highly ranked defenses with statistics built up against mostly inferior opponents, though West Virginia's defense was much more successful against LSU's offense than USF's was against that of Florida. And before anyone chimes in about LSU's weak offense, one might note Florida's 96th-rated offense this season.

Once again the game will hinge on the turnover battle and the pillow fight in the trenches. Both schools possess speed all over the field in the skill positions, so open field tackling will also be key in the outcome. I just don't see this year's WVU defense letting B.J. Daniels to roam free. The Mountaineers possess the ability to turn this into a huge rout, but until I see it, I'm not predicting it.

Pick: West Virginia 31-17
 
Andy Easton Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 59
Over the past five seasons the Bulls have give the Mountaineers fits, topping the Gold and Blue hree times. No other Big East team has a winning record versus WVU over that time span.

Also, a new coaching staff has taken over in Tampa with plenty of WVU connections ties. Skip Holtz has coached against the Mountaineers over the past five years, as has ex-Marshall head coach, Mark Snyder who is now the defensive coordinator for the Bulls. The staff also includes ex-WVU wide receiver coach Steve Bird and ex-WVU volunteer coach Todd Fitch.

Although South Florida has had WVU's number in recent years, the Bulls are adjusting to a new system which should allow the Mountaineers to even the series at 3-3.

Pick: West Virginia 23-21
 
Brian Jolliff Last Week: L Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 69
The start of Big East play has me close to the bottom of the barrel in the picking order... and I'm ok with that. Not great... but ok. Since there is no point in wondering "what if" from my bad pick from the LSU game, I'm not going to dwell on previous difficulties WVU has had with the South Florida Bulls. As someone said (who I cannot recall at the moment) "it's in the past" and has little bearing on how this squad will fare Thursday night under the lights.

The WVU team is seemingly starting to find its stride both offensively and defensively. Look for the Mountaineers to extend their home win streak to an even dozen with a solid performance.

Pick: West Virginia 38-14
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: L Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 84
Helloooooooooo, Bradley! I'd been wondering what happened to you. Glad to see you had that big breakout game. Just when our opponents think they have a plan for dealing with Devine, Sanders, Austin, Bailey, Clarke . . . . Here comes trouble in the form of Brad Starka. Keep it up, big guy.

South Florida will be a different team without their former leader, the Muppet King, but Skip Holtz & Co. gave us plenty of trouble while he was at East Carolina. This game will be closer than it should be, but the Mountaineers' rocking defense and all those wild-eyed WRs and TBs will make Holtz think he's living inside a giant pinball game.

Pick: West Virginia 28-17

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