Soon it will be August-hot in Georgia
Even last season’s loss-riddled 4-8 Mountaineer record hasn’t dulled the senses of those West Virginia fans waiting for college football to return next month.
Consecutive late-season losses to Kansas and Iowa State numbed the mind. There was no bowl game. Unless you bagged a 12-point buck, there was no winter joy in the Mountain State.
People eventually flung off the inglorious finish. Way off in the future was the 2014 season and an August 30 season-opening date in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
As the gloom caused by the finish to the 2013 season began to burn away, there was a trip to the Peach State ahead; a neutral-site game in Atlanta. A game made for television. And if television is involved, you know the sponsors aren’t going to have the Mountaineers playing Wofford or South Carolina Upstate.
The sponsors matched the Mountaineers against Alabama of all teams.
Alabama, coming off three national championships in the last five years. Alabama, coached by Monongah-born Nick Saban — the same Nick Saban that was on WVU coach Frank Cignetti’s staff in both 1978 and 1979.
Cignetti was fired. Saban has claimed national championships at both LSU and Alabama.
The Crimson Tide was ranked first in the country from the very beginning of the 2013 season until it faced snarling in-state rival Auburn in the last game of the year.
A win over the War Eagles would send Saban and company to the bowl that hosted the national championship game. Saban’s Red Elephants were 11-0. Auburn made that record read 11-1 when it had the intelligence to return a missed field goal some 109 yards for a winning score on the game’s last play.
Alabama staggered into a bowl game with a team that had left its heart and most of its desire on the battered turf of its loss to Auburn. The Crimson Tide was bullied in a bowl loss that left it with a bitterly disappointing 11-2 record. West Virginia football history shows only four teams that have won 11 games.
So when August 30 gets here, it will be a West Virginia team seeking to put away memories of the bleak 2013 season . . . and Alabama trying to distance itself from those mind-boggling losses to a season that 95-percent of college football teams and their contributing alumni and friends would cherish for all time.
Besides the story line concerning Saban and his being born in West Virginia, graduating from high school at Monongah, and coaching for two seasons as an assistant at WVU there is the tale of the two starting quarterbacks.
Both Clint Trickett and ‘Bama’s Jacob Coker transferred from Florida State. Both had graduated and were immediately eligible when they arrived in Morgantown and Tuscaloosa. Trickett wasn’t going to play ahead of E. J. Manuel and Coker wasn’t going to play ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
The Mountaineers and head coach Dana Holgorsen lost six of their last seven games to end the 2013 season. The worst of the defeats saw Maryland pound WVU, 37-0, in a game where a rain made it seem like purgatory in College Park, and a stunning 73-42 debacle-loss to Baylor.
In the off-season, former long-time Penn State coach Tom Bradley was added to the West Virginia staff. It was Bradley who was the interim coach in Penn State’s last four games of the 2011 season. He will be in his 34th year as a college coach.
Saban brought in Lane Kiffin to be his new offensive coordinator.
Alabama always has shelf-loads of talent. But it will have a new quarterback starting his first game. Making Coker’s debut so much easier will be running backs T.J. Yeldon (1,279 rushing yards), Kenyan Drake (a 7.5 yards per carry average) and Derrick Henry (100 yards on eight carries in the bowl loss). Receivers Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard also can ease Coker’s load.
Saban nearly always has a defense that makes achieving national championships a realistic goal in any season. Trey DePriest, Landon Collins and A’Shawn Robinson are the Tide’s best defenders, but both cornerbacks are going to be new and the Alabama kicking game will be in inexperienced hands.
The Mountaineers have recognizable names in Quinton Spain, Daikiel Shorts, Karl Joseph, Nick Kwiatkoski, Tyler Orlosky and Dreamius Smith, but none of them is an All-America type.
Besides the opener against Alabama, the Mountaineers have non-conference games against Towson and Maryland. Five of the nine Big 12 games are in Morgantown with Oklahoma, Kansas, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State coming to WVU’s 60,000-seat Puskar facility.
It’s July. Next month there’s college football. Next month the state of West Virginia gets to see an Alabama team that has been reminded by the work it has been given as to just how unacceptable the last two games of the 2013 season were.