Led by Rodriguez, West Virginia’s on verge of greatness

By Marc Hudgens  |   Wednesday, August 08, 2007  |  Comments( 3 )

West Virginia Mountaineers
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Without a doubt, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez is a modern-day elite coach and one of the best minds in all of college football. What he's accomplished in Morgantown is astounding, and Mountaineer fans can legitimately brag about what the program has done and where it's going.

Since he came to West Virginia in 2001, Rodriguez's records are:

'01: 3-8;
'02: 9-4;
'03: 8-5;
'04: 8-4;
'05: 11-1 (including a bowl win over SEC champ Georgia);
'06: 11-2 (including a bowl win over ACC runner-up Georgia Tech).

Since Rodriguez's first year with the Mountaineers, which was a poor one, West Virginia has compiled a 47-16 overall mark and has become one of the top teams in the modern era.

Because of his immense success, Rodriguez has been approached by a few struggling big-name programs in hopes he could rejuvenate them, namely Alabama and Miami. However, he rejected their courtship, and staying put with his alma mater should prove that he's driven to see this thing out.

The 2007 and '08 recruiting classes aren't highly ranked given elite-team standards -- Heisman candidates Pat White and Steve Slaton were only three-star players out of high school, mind you -- but Rodriguez knows how to develop players beyond their wildest dreams.

That said, West Virginia landed highly touted freshman RB Noel Devine, who will be a monster to take down after he takes Slaton's spot upon departure.

During the offseason a few of Rodriguez's top assistants had other plans than him and bolted. Wide receivers coach Butch Jones headed to Central Michigan; tight ends coach Herb Hand is now Tulsa's offensive coordinator; most notably, offensive line coach Rick Trickett left to go work for the same position at Florida State. Trickett's departure is the most painful given the O-line's huge success under him, earmarked by 2006 Rimington Award-winning center Dan Mozes.

Another issue going into '07 is the pass defense. Last year, the Mountaineers ranked 109th in that category with opponents throwing at will, averaging 315 yards in the last five games. The good news is that the team returns its five starters in the secondary, so the hope is that the experience of last season will translate to drastic improvement this year. But given that all three linebackers from last year are now gone, the pass defense becomes more critical and the pressure on the secondary to take up the slack is mounting. Fixing the problem is an absolute must, especially if the team makes it to the BCS title game and has to face a pass-happy team like USC.

While the Big East isn't as large as the other BCS conferences, it is still strong with two elite programs in West Virginia and Louisville, not to mention the up-and-coming Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Another criticism, specifically against the stronger Big East teams, is the soft schedule, which, to a point, is understandable. Therefore, it stands to reason that going undefeated is the only solid way for West Virginia to make it to the BCS championship. Even one loss could cost the Mountaineers their shot, particularly when you consider that teams like Texas, Oklahoma, USC, LSU and Florida all have tougher schedules.

Some say that Rodriguez and the Mountaineers will square off against Pete Carroll and the Trojans in this January's BCS title game, and that's not out of the question. With two Heisman Trophy candidates running its offense, nothing is out of the question for West Virginia.
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About Marc Hudgens

Marc Hudgens has been with RealFootball365 since 2007, covering college football, specifically Clemson and Oregon. He also writes for SouthernPigskin.com covering the ACC. He enjoys the acidic wit of Hunter S. Thompson, is a freelance graphic designer and has written several screenplays. He...
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