The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 28, 2013

Mountaineers better not overlook The Tribe

I’ve heard it all this week. I’ve listened to self-proclaimed “huge” West Virginia fans saying they’re going to skip the trip to Morgantown on Saturday to see the Mountaineers play “some sorry team.” I’ve heard media members complain about having to cover “such a boring game,” and I’ve evened read e-mails suggesting that WVU start the second-string quarterback Saturday against William & Mary to fool Week 2 opponent Oklahoma, “since it isn’t going to matter anyway.”

My first thought? Wonder if those were the same discussions being held in Charlottesville, Va., prior to the 2009 season opener?

Taking on a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent is nothing new for The Tribe, and they haven’t always been outmatched.

In 2009, a year after taking North Carolina State to the wire, William & Mary upset Virginia 26-14 on its way to an 11-3 season and an appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals.

In 2010, North Carolina needed a late touchdown to beat The Tribe in Chapel Hill, surviving with a 21-17 victory. And last year, Maryland needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to hang on for a 7-6 win over William & Mary in College Park, Md.

I can hear the overconfident Mountaineer fans now. “Sure, but we’re not Virginia or Maryland. The Big 12 isn’t the ACC.”

It happens in the Big 12, too. Kansas State has lost to an FCS team six times. Kansas has had it happen twice. TCU has twice been a victim a couple times, and Texas Tech has felt that embarrassment, as well.

This Mountaineer team fits the description of one of the FBS teams that has fallen to smaller FCS teams in recent years — it’s happened nine times in the last three seasons, including twice last year (Cal State-Sacramento over Colorado and Youngstown State over Pitt).

West Virginia is coming off a disappointing 7-5 season. It’s starting a first-time quarterback, and it has major concerns about a defense that was one of FBS’s worst in 2012. If it is also overconfident, it could be prime for a shock.

“Do we want to be the next ones on that list? I don’t think so,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, promising he was focusing on nothing but the first team on the schedule. “We want to take these guys serious.

“You can’t overlook (William & Mary) or anyone else in that conference.”

As Holgorsen said, William & Mary has many of the ingredients it takes to pull an upset. Its head coach, Jimmye Laycock, has won more than 200 games in his 34-year career with The Tribe. He’s made 10 postseason appearances and won four conference titles.

“How do you maintain your job for 34 years if you don’t know what you’re doing?” asked Holgorsen. “His kids will play very hard.”

William & Mary is admittedly coming off a disappointing 2-9 season, but wide receiver Tre McBride is a dangerous playmaker, and The Tribe has two experienced quarterbacks to get him the ball. Remember, WVU wasn’t exactly dynamic at stopping the pass last year, and The Tribe also likes to control the ball with a solid ground game.

“They like to run the ball a lot,” said WVU cornerback Ishmael Banks. “They have some good wide receivers on the outside. They also have a lot of discipline.

“(McBride) is very athletic. He runs routes very well, and he is pretty physical, too. It’s going to be a good matchup.”

Am I predicting an upset? No. I expect the Mountaineers to roll. Then again, that’s what I thought when Pitt came to Morgantown in 2007, too.

Anything can happen.

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