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The Times' preseason college football rankings: No. 21 West Virginia

The Mountaineers are one of only four teams to win at least nine games each of the last six seasons, but meltdowns are what people usually remember. Coaching controversy won't stop team from being good.

August 10, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen talks to quarterback Paul Millard during practice last week in Morgantown, W.Va.
West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen talks to quarterback Paul Millard during… (David Smith / Associated…)

The media overlooked the odorous obvious and picked West Virginia to win the Big East Conference.

Somebody light up a cigar but, please, not a couch.

West Virginia is, frankly, the best we can offer at this time in the Big East, a league struggling to keep pace as the sixth-ranked conference in the six-conference Bowl Championship Series.

The Big East is mediocre, balanced, or maybe both.

It took a thumb-wrestling contest last year to determine the champion that earned a guaranteed spot in the Fiesta Bowl while 11-1 teams went to the MAACO.

Four-loss Connecticut became five-loss Connecticut after losing, 48-20, to Oklahoma. This is the stuff that drives antitrust nuts crazy: Why does the Big East champion deserve an automatic bid to a major bowl?

The Big East's "charter member" answer is it was auto-bid worthy until Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bolted for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Big East has, at times, sparred with the big boys. Who will forget top-10 charges by Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia?

West Virginia succeeds in spite of itself. The Mountaineers are one of only four teams to win at least nine games each of the last six seasons.

Who knew?

We tend to remember the meltdowns, none more calamitous than the 2007 Mountaineers' home loss to Pittsburgh. West Virginia was a 28-point favorite and lost, 13-9.

It cost the second-ranked Mountaineers a trip to the BCS title game and screwed up two programs. Rich Rodriguez probably wouldn't have left for Michigan had West Virginia won the national title that season.

The Pittsburgh loss remains a pockmark into tumult. Bill Stewart, taking over for RichRod, led West Virginia to a 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. The school was so bamboozled it hired Stewart full time the next day.

It wasn't long, though, before Oliver Luck, the new athletic director, proclaimed West Virginia couldn't win a national title with Stewart.

This year, Luck hired Oklahoma State's hotshot offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, and announced he would take over as head coach in 2012. Stewart was asked to stay on as a lame duck, but things turned ugly when Stewart reportedly asked local reporters to dig up dirt on Holgorsen.

It came to a head in June when Stewart stepped down and Holgorsen stepped over. None of this controversy, apparently, is going to stop West Virginia from being good.

Holgorsen is one of those wunderkind coordinators who learned madcap offense from the likes of Hal Mumme and Mike Leach.

In one year at Oklahoma State, last year, Holgorsen took the Cowboys' offense from No. 61 to No. 1.

Oklahoma State averaged 538 yards per game.

Holgorsen is eager to get West Virginia on a faster path and he has some tools to do it, starting with returning quarterback Geno Smith, who passed for 2,763 yards last season.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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