Auburn residents, it's Week 3, so you'd better batten down the hatches: West By God Virginia is coming. In terms of the state, I'll let Toothpaste for Dinner give you the lowdown:
In terms of the football team, well, things are a little bit better than that. Or Jesco. The 'Eers won 11 games three straight seasons from 2005-2007, rolled up 271 rushing yards on Auburn at 7.7 a pop last year in Morgantown, and return seven starters from what was already one of the nation's better defenses. So even in Jordan-Hare, this looks like a difficult hill to climb, or, if you prefer, a long country road to hoe.
But--and this is a big but--this man is their head coach. Not the special teams coach, which is what he used to be. Not a coordinator, or the linebackers or tight ends coach or something, or even the lovable old coot nicknamed "Ol' Stumpy" who the administration lets dress up in a coaches' outfit and wear a headset on the sideline on his birthday. He's the head coach Auburn may not win, but as long as Stewart's there, I'll always believe they've got a shot.
Last year: Armed with Pat White, Noel Devine, a solid defense, and arguably the best offensive line in the country, the 'Eers were a preseason top-10 team assumed by many to be a serious threat to run the Big East table and squeeze into the national title game. Which made their back-to-back losses at East Carolina and Colorado in Weeks 2 and 3 something of a bona fide disaster that led to all kinds of awesomeness being unleashed on the Internet. (My favorite? Hyah.)
Unfortunately for us lovers of awesomeness, WVU rebounded to win their next five (including the aforementioned come-from-behind-and-finish-way-the-hell-ahead whipping of Auburn) and salvage a respectable 9-4 season. Unless, of course, you required at least one win over a team that finished the season in the final AP poll or a spot in the top two of one of the weakest single-season conferences in the BCS's history. In that case, it might have been a little less respectable.
Notable previous meeting: Last year's meeting was the first in the two teams' official history. However, an unofficial, impromptu exhibition game between the two schools reportedly took place in 1940 after a series of miscommunications that would eventually lead to an FBI investigation. Auburn coach Jack Meagher believed he had lined up a season-opening game against the Mountaineers in Morgantown, but after bringing his Tigers north by bus, he was informed upon his arrival that West Virginia coaches and officials had no knowledge of the game and ...
(You know what? This story isn't even close to being worth it. Not funny, not interesting, not plausible. Been trying to come up with something for a week, and I got nothin'. We're just going to move on. Sorry if you're a fan of this item. You're not, which makes me feel slightly better.)
Actual series history: West Virginia leads the all-time series 1-0.
Causes for Alarm
1. From West Virginia's Wikipedia page:
West Virginia University was the first in the world to establish a bachelor of science degree in Biometric Systems. In 2003 the university also founded the initial chapter of the Student Society for the Advancement of Biometrics(SSAB). The program, located in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (LCSEE), provides a firm understanding of the underlying electrical engineering and computer engineering disciplines that support biometric applications.Now, I know biometrics is mostly about retina-scan and fingerprint-ID technologies to make sure Sticky-Fingers McRobberson doesn't get to walk into a bank vault. But would you put it past a program that "provides a firm understanding of the underlying electrical engineering and computer engineering disciplines that support biometric applications" to come up with a machine that sits on the sideline disguised as, say, a cooling fan, and emits a subsonic pulse that causes fatigue and discomfort in everyone in a 50--yard radius except the pre-programmed West Virginia players? Would you? Now that I think about it, I think this is the easiest explanation for why Auburn went from 17-3 ahead with the ball to a 34-17 loss.
On February 6, 2008, WVU became the national academic leader for the FBI's biometric research.
2. Jarrett Brown has seen more time than most backup quarterbacks thanks to Pat White's occasional injury troubles ... but at the same time, how many backup quarterbacks spent three years as an understudy at the same school? Not many. Brown, on the other hand, has patiently waited Shockley-style to get his shot, and now he'll get it. Here's to hoping he skips the Shockley-like results, but I wouldn't past him.
Causes for Confidence
1. Bill Stewart.
OK, not just Bill Stewart, but the process by which Stewart became head coach, which went as follows:
1) Rich Rodriguez bolts to Michigan after various promises made by the WVU administration went unfulfilled
2) Stewart is named interim coach for the bowl game against Oklahoma, which the 'Eers win mostly by virtue of Rodriguez's offense as called by Rodriguez's offensive coordinator, who was set to leave for Michigan as well
3) Players make emotional plea for "Coach Stew" to take over as full-time head coach, because if there's one set of unbiased, rational judges of coaching talent out there, it's the coach's own players (or so says the Gators who carried Ron Zook off the field on their shoulders)
4) The very next day, without a formal interview process, Stewart is named head coach??!?!?!
Does this strike you as a competent, well-run organization? When has a player revolt in favor of the happy-go-lucky friendly uncle-type ever, ever worked? Auburn may or may not beat West Virginia this year, but this is not going to work long-term. And hey, maybe it won't work in the short term, either.
2. Stereotypes are awfully dangerous things, but there seems to be a pretty wide-ranging consensus that West Virginia fans are, by and large ... well, deeply, deeply unpleasant people. From Wire Road and Shug's report from the game in Morgantown (after noting that fans had been "so nice the whole time" before the night of the game):
We walked towards the stadium and it was like everyone in yellow had flipped a switch that said, "Get pissed". People are chanting, "asshole" at us constantly and telling us to go home. That's not even the worst of it, once in the stadium I can't even count the number of times we were told to "f*** off" or "go the f*** back to Alabama" or "orange and blue f***ing sucks". It seems they would rather be beligerant towards the road team than watch the game. Three times someone got in my face and cussed me out.(Audio proof here.) Blogger and occasional commenter here Jimmy chimes in:
I spent all of last year in Morgantown at an internship and I warned everyone I knew about going there for the game. I witnessed some of the worst behavior imaginable. I lived next to the stadium and worked at the hospital. They would scream F*** you at young girls and people with families. During the Pitt game they threw glass bottles from the parking lot at fans walking by WITH KIDS. Grown adults have no problem jumping into peoples faces and forming a gang of drunken idiots around people. The fights never stop downtown and for Gods sake I am glad you did not venture out in Auburn gear after the game! It is a nasty college scene of drunken idiots. You can not imagine what a Monday at the hospitals are like there.I know every fan base has its share of jackasses and jerks (the number of Auburn fans willing to yell "Go Buckeyes" or something similar at my Michigan friends during last year's road trip was definitely higher than I'd have liked), but this seems to be the reaction of nearly visiting fan who's ever set foot in Morgantown. Fans like these, like those who boo, do not deserve victory and surely cannot find too much favor with the football gods.
Actual alleged analysis: Always a good idea to start with Acid's preview of the game, but this is one of those rare cases where I find myself disagreeing with his conclusion, which is:
Auburn battles gamely, but the Mountaineers are too much, again. Auburn falls at home, 31-10.It could happen, but the way I look at it, Auburn only lost by 17 in Morgantown last year, against a Mountaineer team that was much, much better than this year's will be--there's no way with the offensive line totally gutted (WVU returns one starter), White gone, their top three tacklers departed, excellent turnover luck (+12 last year) due to swing, and a new emphasis on the pass that WVU is going to be a 9-win team again. Auburn, on the other hand, should be improved. With Auburn moving up the ladder, West Virginia moving down, and the game in Jordan-Hare, shouldn't it be much closer than last year's edition?
Besides, on top of all of that, we're talking about a coaching staff headed up by Bill Stewart. I'll totally agree with Acid that the 'Eers are talented, but is this really the guy we'd expect to get the most out of that talent? I shouldn't judge him by the way he spoke to Erin Andrews during last year's Auburn telecast like a guy who still couldn't believe he'd been so ridiculously blessed as to have the job he has, but ... I'm going to anyway. He's not that guy.
And so I think Auburn has a good shot at this. A great shot ... eh, we'll see what both teams do in their respective first couple of weeks. But we're not going to see a replay of last year's debacle. That much, I'm sure of.