By Dave Morrison
Sure, West Virginia will be a huge favorite when it takes the field Saturday, hosting Liberty University at noon.
Just don’t try to tell that to West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
“I include Liberty as I do Auburn, Colorado and East Carolina, and, after Syracuse, I think Marshall is in there,” Stewart said of the Mountaineers’ nonconference schedule Monday morning on the Big East Conference coaches teleconference. “Those (five games) will get us prepped for Big East play.”
Stewart said he is “leery” of the Flames, coached by Danny Rocco.
The Mountaineer coach, beginning his second full year Saturday, said he felt his team was ready after a physical camp.
“We had a very interesting camp,” Stewart said. “I would like to think we got a lot accomplished.”
Stewart was asked about playing a school from the Football Championship Subdivision, in this case the Big South Conference’s Flames.
“I’m partial to playing Virginia schools,” Stewart said. “I recruit down there, I coached down there. We want to play those types of schools. And I’m a friend and a fan of Danny Rocco.”
Stewart said if his team didn’t take Liberty seriously before, he got their attention Sunday during the Mountaineers’ practice.
“I’m impressed with their size and their speed,” Stewart said. “I showed the guys the tape of their special teams play and their jaws just dropped. They were No. 3 in the nation in punt returns and they were No. 12 in kickoff returns.”
The Flames went 10-2 last year and were the Big South champions.
Liberty has a South Carolina transfer, Tommy Beecher, at quarterback and the Flames return a veteran defensive front.
To that end, Stewart was asked about his offensive line, which has been a work in progress during the fall camp.
“We did that (tinkered with different players in different places) to find the right combination,” Stewart said. “We’re trying to find the right five. Our offensive line is young but they’re going to be fine.”
West Virginia hasn’t lost an opener since 2003, when the Mountaineers fell to Wisconsin 24-17 in Morgantown.
“We’re honored to play them,” Stewart said of the Flames. “Hopefully, what happened to us last year against Villanova, when they were on the field for 95 snaps, won’t happen to us again. We’ll see.”
Stewart also was asked about the lack of a Big East team in both the coaches and AP preseason polls.
“Our league is a black-and-blue league,” Stewart said. “We won 75 percent of our games outside the league last year. We are 12-4 in the last 16 bowls we’ve played, including three of four BCS bowls.”