By Mickey Furfari
West Virginia University’s football team could be looking at a sweep of its remaining six games of the regular season.
With a 5-1 overall record at the halfway mark, the nationally ranked Mountaineers appear capable of building on last Thursday night’s 20-6 victory over USF in their first Big East Conference game of the year.
The league doesn’t look nearly as strong as it has been in past years, regardless of what you may be hearing from the eight head coaches.
It most certainly is not surprising to me that WVU is the early leader in the ECAC-Meadowlands Lambert Trophy poll which first appeared a week ago. The winner among Division 1-A teams at season’s end is recognized annually as the No. 1 team in the East.
Pitt finally snapped out of its shaky start on Saturday at Syracuse with a 45-14 win over the Orange. Now each of those teams has a 3-2 record and each show one loss in league play. While looking slightly stronger under a new coach, Syracuse still lacks the talent that had made it a perennial power until a few years ago. The Orange had defeated USF in Tampa a week earlier, however, and will be West Virginia’s next opponent at Mountaineer Field/Milan Puskar Stadium.
I thought the Mountaineers performed very well, especially on defense, in disposing of USF’s Bulls. That evens the series record at 3-3, and was only the Mountaineers second win in the last five meetings.
Coach Bill Stewart said he was pleased with most phases of his veteran team’s performance. But he said, “We’ve got to continue getting better.”
For one thing, the WVU offense could become more consistent and probably more productive. Quarterback Geno Smith, however, is performing more like a senior than as a sophomore.
Senior Noel Devine still isn’t 100 percent healthy, according to Stewart. As a result, the rushing attack isn’t as strong as it has been in previous years. Devine has been hampered by a sore foot.
Jock Sanders, like Devine rounding out his fourth season before turning pro, is seeing more action as running back and slot receiver. WVU also is using younger RBs sparingly.
The defense certainly appears to have settled in. Holding USF without a touchdown was encouraging. So were the three interceptions.
I still have a firm feeling that West Virginia will win at least 10 games this season. That would only be the eighth time in 118 years of intercollegiate football that it hit double digits in a season.
In the process, the Mountaineers should win the Big East championship and earn a BCS bowl berth.