NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers
ATH Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State: The best compliment you can offer Tyreek Hill might be that, without a doubt, Florida State wishes that guy was on their team. The heavily-hyped junior college transfer might've actually exceeded his electric expectations with 106 yards of offense on 14 touches and, including returns, 278 all-purpose yards in the 37-31 loss to Florida State. We tried to warn you all about him. Hill is going to be special and he's going to give Big 12 defenses fits.
QB Clint Trickett and WR Kevin White, West Virginia: What a gutsy performance from the Mountaineers and especially this duo during the 33-23 loss to Alabama. Trickett came out firing and finished with 365 passing yards and no turnovers. White might've been even better. He took it to the Alabama secondary with 143 yards on nine receptions, including a 19-yard score, and evoked a lot of talk about his NFL future. Trickett and White were put on a big stage and they stepped up.
WR John Harris, Texas: Welcome back to the big show. Harris, a senior who was seldom used last season, had an eye-opening, career-best performance as David Ash's go-to guys during a 38-7 win over North Texas. He hauled in seven receptions for 110 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown in which he trucked through a defender near the goal line. Harris caught five passes in all of 2013 but could be poised to do big things if he and Ash keep up this rapport.
QB Jake Waters, Kansas State: Waters kicked off his senior-year campaign with another typically steady showing, leading K-State on a 55-16 rout of SF Austin while putting up some nice numbers: 223 yards on 19-of-28 passing, two passing TDs, 55 rushing yards, two rushing TDs. He's becoming an excellent distributor. KSU's offense won't ask him to put up crazy Air Raid stats, but this was a nice performance.
RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma: Freshman Samaje Perine finished with more yards and Alex Ross chipped in two scores, but Ford did some really nice things with his touches. He finished with 116 total yards (65 receiving, 51 rushing) and punched in two first-quarter touchdown runs to get the Sooners rolling to a 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. OU's inexperience stable of backs got the job done.
DE Mike Tuaua, TCU: The Horned Frogs' defensive line fared just fine without Devonte Fields thanks to a breakout performance from Tuaua. The former juco transfer went wild on Samford with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles during TCU's 48-14 win. A three-game starter last season, Tuaua almost matched his entire TFL output from last season in one night. He won't get to catch folks by surprise anymore, that's for sure.
1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.
3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.
4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.
5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, SEC Network
Mark Stoops enters his second season at Kentucky, and he has a new starting quarterback, Patrick Towles. The third-year sophomore won the position battle in preseason training camp, and the Wildcats are looking for him to get off to a positive start. Establishing confidence early will be key, and against an FCS foe like Tennessee-Martin, that should be feasible. Stoops says Towles is “not on a short leash,” and that he has confidence in his new signal-caller. Just setting a positive tone with a convincing win would be good for the Wildcats as they continue to try to build depth, increase talent level and work their way up from the SEC cellar.
3:30 p.m. ET
The Maty Mauk era begins at quarterback for Missouri. The Tigers are 13-1 in season openers under Gary Pinkel with 13 consecutive wins, and they’re 13-0 all time against FCS teams. The Tigers don’t have Kony Ealy and Michael Sam but still return several standout defenders such as defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray, who aim to continue the Tigers’ defensive line success. Missouri also has the nation’s longest active turnover streak at 44 games.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, ABC/ESPN2
The Crimson Tide open as heavy favorites against the Mountaineers, who were 4-8 a year ago. It sounds like Blake Sims will be Alabama’s starting quarterback today, but expect Jake Coker to play also. It appears this quarterback battle will continue for the time being. Clint Trickett is West Virginia’s starter after eight appearances and five starts last season. The Mountaineers play a pace that Nick Saban isn’t a fan of, so it will be interesting to see if that gives the Crimson Tide any trouble or if they simply impose their well at the line of scrimmage -- on both sides of the ball.
4 p.m. ET
Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn, SEC Network
A meeting of two coaches who are quite fond of each other, Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. All kidding aside, this is a contrast of styles (smashmouth football versus hurry-up no-huddle) and a matchup of two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum last season, with Arkansas last in the SEC West and Auburn winning the SEC. The Tigers are looking to take the division title again while the Razorbacks hope for improvement. This is the start to a tough schedule for Arkansas (the nation’s toughest, according to the NCAA). Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback for Auburn, but Nick Marshall will eventually see the field. When is unknown, as Malzahn has kept that to himself.
5:30 p.m. ET
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, ESPN
This was an entertaining affair last season, one that Clemson won 38-35. It should be another compelling game this time. After South Carolina’s thrashing at the hands of Texas A&M on Thursday, this would be a good opportunity for Georgia to flex its muscle, since many might now look toward the Bulldogs as the SEC East favorite. Both teams have quarterbacks with big shoes to fill (Cole Stoudt for Clemson; Hutson Mason for Georgia), and this could also be a chance to make an early Heisman statement for Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
7 p.m. ET
Idaho at Florida, ESPNU
Florida trots out its new offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper, and quarterback Jeff Driskel makes his return to the lineup for the first time since a season-ending leg injury suffered against Tennessee last season. The Gators are eagerly looking to start this season and put the past behind them; last season’s disastrous 4-8 campaign was unacceptable. Idaho is coming off a 1-11 year in 2013, so this is a game Florida should look to dominate early and build confidence.
7:30 p.m. ET
Southern Miss at Mississippi State, SEC Network
Mississippi State is looking to take a big step forward this season and returns 83 percent of its letter-winners from 2013 (57 total), which is the third-highest percentage in the nation. That includes quarterback Dak Prescott, linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive lineman Chris Jones, all of whom are poised for big seasons. Southern Miss is coming off a 1-11 season, and Mississippi State is looking for its 12th straight home win against a non-SEC team.
9 p.m. ET
No. 14 Wisconsin at No. 13 LSU, ESPN
This is a huge early-season battle between two squads that are strikingly similar. Both have experienced offensive lines and good running games going against inexperienced defensive fronts, and both have been mostly mum on their quarterback situations (though reports have Tanner McEvoy starting for Wisconsin, and Les Miles admitted both Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings will play for LSU). The running backs will probably be the focus, though. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is getting early Heisman publicity, and LSU true freshman Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 player in the 2014 class, is someone everyone is waiting to see.
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET
Utah State at Tennessee, SEC Network
This is one of the most intriguing games of the week, even though it doesn't involved a ranked team. Tennessee begins Butch Jones' second season, and there will be plenty of fresh faces on the field. Jones said Wednesday that between 28-30 freshmen could play on Sunday night. This Utah State team is a good one led by a dynamite quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 18 touchdowns before a knee injury robbed him of his final eight games. Tennessee's starter, Justin Worley, earned the job this month and has 10 career starts. The Vols are hoping he can take a step forward, and he has some talented weapons around him to use.
Top Week 1 stories:
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:
North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.
Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.
Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.
North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.
Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.
Yet no game looms larger in Dana Holgorsen’s career than the Mountaineers’ battle against Alabama on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
With an upset victory, expectations would explode through the roof for West Virginia, similar to Oklahoma’s rise in national perception after the Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over the Crimson Tide in January. Meanwhile, a lopsided loss could confirm doubts about the overall upside of the Mountaineers in 2014, just 60 minutes into a season that lasts more than three months.
Entering Holgorsen’s fourth season, the Mountaineers’ program is finally full of players he recruited and he’s starting to amass the overall depth he has strived for since they joined the Big 12 before the 2012 season. The Mountaineers were in the Big East in Holgorsen’s first season.
Holgorsen has had success in the Big 12 as an assistant at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Holgorsen has been a part of 47 victories during his 11 seasons as a coach in the Big 12, but only six of those victories have been earned as head coach at West Virginia in two seasons.
The time is now for Holgorsen’s influence to blossom into Big 12 success or wither into Big 12 oblivion.
Yet Holgorsen isn’t taking an approach that this season-opening game against Alabama is any different than the other 38 he's coached at West Virginia.
“We’re going to approach this game just like each and every game, study what they do offensively, defensively come up with a game plan to try to get our guys prepared for what they are going to face,” Holgorsen said. “Regardless of who the opponent is, that will be the approach.”
The Mountaineers are clear underdogs. Few observers outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, expect them to win.
“Our guys are going to be ready to play,” Holgorsen said. “Alabama guys are going to be ready to play. You can throw away favorites or underdogs, or any of that. It doesn’t affect us one way or another.”
This will be West Virginia's second meeting with an SEC team under Holgorsen. The Mountaineers rallied to within six points of LSU during the third quarter of their game in Morgantown in 2011. Les Miles’ squad pulled away in the final 15 minutes to leave town with a 47-21 victory. There’s not much to take from that experience -- few players on the roster played in that game.
Nonetheless, the consistent theme among the Mountaineers is simple: Saturday’s game is not about facing a big, bad national power in SEC country.
“Everyone is tuned in and aware of who we are playing,” cornerback Terrell Chestnut said. “At the end of the day it’s not about Alabama, it’s about West Virginia.”
Interestingly enough, Holgorsen believes his work could really begin on Sunday. The fourth-year coach believes — win or loss — his biggest task of the weekend will be managing postgame expectations or disappointment with 11 games remaining on the schedule.
“I believe my biggest coaching challenge will be Sunday, regardless of what happens on Saturday,” Holgorsen said. “Whether we’re successful or not. I think the bigger coaching challenge is going to be on Sunday – getting these guys to overcome what happened, whether it’s positive or negative.”
Why Florida State will win: Last week, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called Florida State the best team he had ever faced as a player or a coach. The Seminoles are loaded, headlined by the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be fielding almost a completely new squad after losing 28 seniors and returning the fewest starters among any program in a Power 5 conference. Those factors do not equal a recipe for an upset. -- Jake Trotter
More consensus picks: Iowa State over North Dakota State; TCU over Samford; Texas Tech over Central Arkansas; Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin; Texas over North Texas; Baylor over SMU.
West Virginia's opener with Alabama this weekend took an interesting turn Tuesday when Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett was asked after practice about his relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Trickett's father, Rick, who is currently Florida State's offensive line coach, worked at LSU under Saban in 2000.
Trickett, however, apparently had a relationship with another Saban, as well.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Trickett, when prompted that he probably knows Saban well: "His daughter was my first kiss back in the day. So yeah... I don't know if I should have said that [laughs]. She's actually engaged now. Coach Nick is one of the greatest there is. My brother (Travis Trickett) worked for him. He was a GA for him when he first got to Alabama. And we've known him for years, family friends and just one of the best coaches out there."
Trickett cut off the next question to add one more tidbit: "For clarification, we were like six years old! Just so everyone knows that."
It's unclear at the moment whether this news will affect how many blitzes Saban dials up on Saturday.
You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.
"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."
Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)
Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.
"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.
"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."
Likewise, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins in the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.
Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks to command their offenses.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after coach Dave Doeren was hired there, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.
“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell [from Arkansas] through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to [Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin]," Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."
Murphy, who transferred in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.
The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.
"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."
Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, because both are possession-dominated athletes.
The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.
"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."
This season, Bradley will be coaching at a place other than Penn State for the first time in his 34-year career. But it's also a place he feels he knows well.
"I get it. I've followed them. I know it. I understand the pride that West Virginia takes in their football team. They get after it. These people are die-hard fans. And they live and breathe with the Mountaineers."
It wasn't long ago that the man known as "Scrap" lived and breathed Penn State. After playing there, Bradley joined Joe Paterno's staff in 1979, and would remain there for 33 seasons. He started as a graduate assistant and finished as the interim head coach in 2011. No person alive has coached in more Penn State games than Bradley, who was part of two national championships and 26 bowl teams there.
But when Penn State hired Bill O'Brien to be its head coach following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Bradley resigned and became a broadcast analyst, notably covering Army football games.
Other opportunities to coach elsewhere came along over the past three years. Bradley, however, was waiting for the right one.
And when West Virginia asked him to be its senior associate head coach, Bradley finally pounced.
"It was just a great opportunity," he said. "It's very close to where I live (in Pittsburgh). I understand it. I'm not going to a totally different environment that I don't get. Coach (Dana) Holgorsen and (athletic director) Oliver Luck, when they talked to me about this opportunity, it was just something I couldn't pass up.
"This was the right fit."
Bradley just might be the right fit for the Mountaineers, too.
West Virginia has struggled in the Big 12, especially on the defensive side. Through two different coordinators, the Mountaineers have ranked ninth and eighth in total defense, which is a major reason why they've gone 6-12 in two seasons in the league.
After Keith Patterson bolted for Arizona State, Holgorsen promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to become West Virginia's fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. Gibson and Bradley have known each other for years, developing a friendship while squaring off in Pennsylvania for the state's top recruits. Gibson's promotion is another reason why Bradley felt West Virginia was the place he needed to be. And the combination of the two could form the coaching chemistry that finally turns the Mountaineers' defense around.
"Tony is a first-year defensive coordinator and has a plan with what he wants to do and we're very comfortable with his plan," Holgorsen said. "But having a confident, well-respected coach like Tom Bradley that understands the game, what makes kids tick, gives you a backup defensive coordinator in the room. Coach Bradley being able to game plan each week, helping Tony with that, kind of figure out what offenses are trying to get accomplished. ...I think it will pay dividends."
Bradley admits there's been an adjustment. He knew the entire Penn State defensive scheme by heart, but has had to consult the West Virginia playbook occasionally this fall. But Bradley has instantly impressed the players this preseason with his energy, knowledge and confidence.
"He's just a natural leader," veteran defensive lineman Kyle Rose recently said to reporters. "He's doesn't get mad at you too much, but you can tell when he does get mad that he means business. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach, after coaching that many guys in the NFL and having years of coaching experience.
"A great addition to us."
Bradley coached many great players and won many big games at Penn State over the years. He's hoping he can bring the same to his second football home.
"I'm here to help this team win," he said. "To help honest to goodness anyway I can. No task is too small. Whatever they need, I'm going to do it.
"The bottom line is to try and win some games."
Previewing the 2014 season for the West Virginia Mountaineers:
Key returners: QB Clint Trickett, OG Quinton Spain, CB Daryl Worley, SS Karl Joseph
Key losses: RB Charles Sims, DT Shaq Rowell, DE Will Clarke, SS Darwin Cook
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 13 at Maryland; Sept. 20 vs. Oklahoma; Oct. 18 vs. Baylor; Nov. 20 vs. Kansas State
Projected win percentage: 38.5 percent
Instant impact newcomers: DE Shaquille Riddick, FS Dravon Henry. Riddick was one of the top defensive players in the FCS last year for Gardner-Webb. He should give the Mountaineers an element of pass rushing they previously might have lacked. Henry, one of the top recruits in West Virginia’s freshman signing class, is pushing for a starting job at free safety right away. In Henry and sophomore Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers could have two young cornerstones to anchor the secondary for years to come.
High point from 2013: The Mountaineers got off to a tough September, including a 37-0 loss to Maryland that was even uglier than the final score. But the following week with a new quarterback, West Virginia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Big 12 by knocking off No. 11 Oklahoma State 30-21 in Morgantown. In his first start, Trickett was 24-for-50 for 309 yards and a touchdown, and the West Virginia secondary put the clamps on Cowboys QB J.W. Walsh.
Low point from 2013: Kansas has only one Big 12 victory in its past 30 tries. That lone win came against West Virginia last season as the Jayhawks snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 win over the Mountaineers. West Virginia went on to squander a huge lead the following week and fell in triple overtime to Iowa State, which ended the Mountaineers’ season with six losses in their final seven games.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Trickett stays healthy, limits his turnovers and spreads the ball around to West Virginia’s bevy of playmakers. The defense holds up, too, with more depth and a playmaking secondary led by Joseph, Worley and Henry. The Mountaineers beat Maryland in a key nonconference game and go 8-4 to get back to a bowl game, with three of their losses coming to top-10 teams.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: West Virginia gets off to a 1-3 start against a rugged early-season schedule. The rest of the season doesn’t go much better. The quarterbacks can’t stop turning the ball over, and the defense doesn’t improve in the Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime. West Virginia goes 3-9 and its Big 12 career record drops to 8-19.
They said it: “I think our players in our locker room understand what the Big 12 is all about. They understand how challenging it is. They understand what the venues are like. They understand what the teams are like, personnel is like, coaching is like, style of play is like. I obviously tried my hardest to be able to relay that to not only the players, but the coaches and the administration and the fan base. And until we got through it for a couple of years, I knew it was going to be challenging.” – West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen
Can you tell me about the maintenance required for the mustache?
Nick O'Toole: The maintenance is I just let it flow and I have to shave everything else. Other than that, it's not too bad. Other than dates and events like this, I usually just let it go. It kind of has its own curl.
Do you wax and twirl it around a pencil? I hear that's one method.
When did this become a passion and commitment of yours?
O'Toole: It definitely became a commitment after the roster picture my first year here at WVU. I had a great game and Pat McAfee, everyone referred to him as "Boomstick" because of his powerful leg. After I averaged like 50 yards against William & Mary, everyone started calling me "Boomstache." I just thought it was a funny thing and kept it. The mullet and the 'stache was a huge hit with the West Virginia fans.
So once you've branded yourself like that, you're stuck, right?
O'Toole: Definitely. I've told a couple people here that if I shave it now, I'll probably get some hate mail from some fans.
Do you appreciate the fan-favorite status you have now?
O'Toole: I enjoy having people laugh, and if I can make them laugh, I love that. We were at Baylor and our kicker, Michael Molinari, he gets mad at me because I came off the field and the fans were chanting 'Olé, Olé, Olé,' but it was 'O'Toole, O'Toole, O'Toole.' He comes off and says, 'I hate you man!' I asked why. He said, 'Even at away games, you're the fan favorite.' I just started laughing.
Were you impressed by the Oregon State kicker who shaved his chest last year?
O'Toole: Yeah, Trevor Romaine. He's from Centennial High School, I actually kick with him on weekends when I'm back home in California. He's a goofy guy, too. I saw that picture with the big beard and the glasses and thought it was brilliant. Trevor is a great guy.
You're wearing USA socks today. What were your other options?
O'Toole: I had to go USA. I have a couple pairs, I think nine. I have Jesus on one. I have Sugar Daddy socks. Beach balls. Anchors. Captains. Some floral socks. I don't have any argyles. We've elevated to a new level.
I notice you have a scar on the top of your head. What's the story there?
O'Toole: I had surgery when I was two months old. My soft spot closed, and so at four months, they had to cut me open and cut a strip of skull out. That's been a scar I've had my whole life. My parents were worried how I would respond to it when I was growing up. I just used to tell people it was a shark bite and they'd laugh and think it was awesome. It doesn't bother me too much.
How would you sum up your career at West Virginia thus far?
O'Toole: It's been a wild ride. It's awesome. Coming in and having that first game against Williams & Mary and doing as well as I did in my first Division I game, it was awesome for me and my confidence. It's like, 'OK, I'm here and this is why I'm here.' All I can do is keep getting better and I strive for that every day.
Do you enjoy the long, long trips to Big 12 road games? What's your perspective on that?
O'Toole: I love it. I've always loved away games. At home games, you have the advantage and all that. But away games give such a different feeling. You're going to some place new, you see new sights. I was telling my dad, this is the most I've ever traveled. I've been to more states in the past year than I have in my entire life.
Are you a guy who dresses up for road trips to complement the 'stache?
O'Toole: I definitely try to dress up as much as I can. I love putting on some slacks and nice shoes. With a mustache this classy, you have to look classy.
He was born in the state. His dad coached at the state school.
“It’s my livelihood,” Trickett said. “The only thing I’m focused on.”
Whether the Mountaineers can improve upon a 6-12 conference record in their two seasons in the Big 12 will hinge heavily on how Trickett performs in his senior season.
After transferring from Florida State, Trickett had his moments last fall, namely when he quarterbacked the Mountaineers to a 30-21 upset victory in September over Oklahoma State in his first career West Virginia start. But he won only one other game as a starter, he threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns, and he got injured on three different occasions. Trickett twice suffered concussions and also injured his shoulder, which eventually required offseason surgery.
But this fall, Trickett is feeling healthier than he did at any point last season post-Oklahoma State, when he first injured the shoulder. And after a year in the system, Trickett is feeling comfortable operating coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
“Compared to last year, I’m light years ahead,” said Trickett, who didn’t arrive at West Virginia in 2013 until just before the season. “Last year, I was slowly grasping what I needed to do. But I had no idea why I needed to do it. This year, I’m understanding the why, and that has made a big difference with my confidence.”
Holgorsen in turn has shown confidence in Trickett.
Last season, Holgorsen first tabbed Paul Millard to be his starting quarterback. After the offense was ineffective through two games, Holgorsen turned to freshman Ford Childress. Only after Childress suffered a pectoral injury did Holgorsen finally give Trickett a shot.
This year, all Holgorsen was waiting for was Trickett’s clean bill of health. During the spring, while Trickett sat out after recovering from shoulder surgery, Millard, junior-college transfer Skyler Howard and walk-on Logan Moore competed for the job. But coming out of the spring, Trickett remained atop the depth chart. And short after that, Holgorsen affirmed that Trickett would be his starter.
“When he joined the team in August last year, although he’s got a good knowledge of the game of football, he had no idea what we were talking about,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t understand what we were trying to do. It just takes time. When you’ve been in one offense for three years, it takes time to adjust your mindset into what were trying to do. So he didn’t feel comfortable running the offense until about [the Oklahoma State game]. But he was our best option. He was our best option Game 5, and he was our best option Game 12.
“I had to see how he responded to shoulder surgery. Once I saw him attack rehab, and do a good job with that and stay engaged in spring practice, and come back and look as healthy as I’ve seen him, it was a no brainier to name him the starter."
As the new kid on an old block, Trickett said he felt he had to prove himself to his teammates once he got the nod against Oklahoma State. He took hits instead of sliding. He took hits standing in the pocket. And those shots plagued him all season.
This preseason, Trickett no longer has to prove his toughness. And that, he said, should help keep him on the field this time around.
“When I first got here, they didn’t know who I was -- I was basically a stranger,” Trickett said. “It’s hard to be like, ‘Hey guys, everyone follow me,’ when you’re not in there with the first team.
“But the guys saw what I’m about. That I’m a competitor. That I put the team before myself. That I can play hurt. I don’t need to take on linebackers [who] have 80 pounds on me anymore. If I need to get that one play, I’ll still try to get there. But I can also avoid the hits that I don’t need to take.”
Trickett staying healthy could be critical for the Mountaineers, who will be entering a crossroads season in Year 3 in the Big 12.
Holgorsen has continued to recruit well off the field. And the Mountaineers appear to have more depth and more capable players than they have their previous two seasons in the Big 12. But West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has gone on record saying he wants to see the program be more competitive this season. In 2013, the Mountaineers got blown out by Maryland and Baylor and lost to Kansas, which hadn’t won a conference game in 27 tries.
West Virginia, however, was also close at times to getting over the hump in 2013. The Mountaineers played Oklahoma tough on the road and had Texas on the ropes before falling in overtime. They also had second-half leads on Texas Tech, Kansas State and Iowa State before falling late.
“We really were so close to being a nine-win team,” Trickett said. “A lot of teams say that, but we really were. It’s almost a confidence builder. A lot of people are down us. But we know we can turn it around. The pieces are in place.”
One of those pieces is a West Virginian quarterback, who doesn’t have to be told what a turnaround season would mean for his home state.
“We’re the pro team here, the only thing going on,” he said. “Everyone wants us to succeed.
“But we gotta do it.”
Brandon, Max and I had a hand in putting together the list for the Big 12.
Nine of the 10 that ultimately made the list were the players I pushed for (I actually had Michael Bishop over Darren Sproles for Kansas State, for reasons I'll detail below).
You can read the list here. But here's a snapshot of the Big 12 players who delivered the season above all others.
Baylor: Robert Griffin III, QB, 2011
My take: This one was easy. Mike Singletary was a great player. But Griffin's 2011 season transformed the program, which will culminate with the opening of McLane Stadium later this month.
Iowa State: Troy Davis, RB, 1996
My take: Only Barry Sanders, Kevin Smith and Marcus Allen have rushed for more yards in a season than Davis. The only Iowa State season that comes close was Davis' 1995 season in which he rushed for 2,010 yards.
Kansas: Gale Sayers, RB, 1963
My take: Sayers' 1964 season was magnificent, too, when the "Kansas Comet" led the Jayhawks to a 15-14 upset over Oklahoma. How monumental was that win? Kansas has defeated the Sooners only six times since.
Kansas State: Darren Sproles, RB, 2003
My take: Sproles was fabulous player and had a fabulous season. But Bishop had the Manhattan Miracle one game away from the national championship game. He also finished second in the Heisman voting.
Oklahoma: Lee Roy Selmon, DE, 1975
My take: With so many great seasons to consider, Oklahoma was one of the toughest programs to sift through. But as good as Billy Sims, Adrian Peterson, Sam Bradford and Tommy McDonald were, none dominated the way Selmon did. He was the heart and soul of the Sooners' dominating run through the mid-1970s.
Oklahoma State: Barry Sanders, RB, 1988
My take: Forget college football. Sanders' 1988 season was one of the greatest in the history of sports.
Texas: Vince Young, QB, 2005
My take: Earl Campbell had the better career and was the better player. But Young had the better single season in 2005, strapping the Longhorns to his shoulders and carrying them to the school's first national title in 35 years.
TCU: Davey O'Brien, QB/DB/P/K, 1938
My take: How loaded was TCU at quarterback in 1935? O'Brien actually backed up Sammy Baugh, who would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Texas Tech: Michael Crabtree, WR, 2007
My take: Though the numbers weren't anywhere as good, I actually pushed for Crabtree's '08 season. But it's hard to argue against 134 receptions, 1,962 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns.
West Virginia: Major Harris, QB, 1988
My take: The Mountaineers have enjoyed some remarkably talented players offensively in recent years in Pat White, Tavon Austin and Geno Smith. But none took West Virginia as far as Harris did.
Both Young and Sanders are in the playoff for the best season overall. You can vote for both by clicking here.
Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."
Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.
TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.
Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.
Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.
Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.
Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."
Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.
Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.