After 11-1 season, W. Virginia no longer under radar
Posted: Thursday April 13, 2006 10:15AM; Updated: Friday April 14, 2006 12:02PM
Pat White averaged 7.3 yards a carry in his freshman season as West Virginia's quarterback.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Much of the national-title hype surrounding West Virginia has to do with its favorable schedule. The Mountaineers don't face a Division I-A team that had a winning record last year until the eighth game of the season. Here's a look at the schedule, including foes' 2005 records:
at East Carolina
at Mississippi St.
Sure, they're working on their technique. Refining their pass routes. Identifying a couple new playmakers in the secondary. All the little things every college football team in the country is going through during spring practices.
For the West Virginia Mountaineers, however, arguably the biggest challenge heading into the 2006 season will be managing the newfound attention on them.
A little more than three months removed from a stunning Sugar Bowl victory over SEC champion Georgia, which capped an 11-1 season and earned them a top-five final ranking, coach Rich Rodriguez's team is finding it hard to hide out in Morgantown, W.Va. Coaches, writers and other visitors from around the country have descended on campus this spring to watch Pat White, Steve Slaton and the rest of the Mountaineers work out. Saturday's spring game will be nationally televised.
Rodriguez gave his players a simple mantra to follow: "Stay hungry, stay humble." It's a hefty task when your two best players haven't even reached their sophomore seasons and yet you've already been anointed as prime national-title contenders.
At least for now, they're saying all the right things.
"We're excited that we won the Sugar Bowl last year, but that's kind of died down," said White. "It was fun while it lasted."
Added Slaton, "The Sugar Bowl isn't going to win us a single game this year."
Rodriguez, who will be entering his sixth season, has been in this position before. Two years ago, when Miami and Virginia Tech bolted to the ACC, the Rasheed Marshall/Chris Henry/Kay-Jay Harris?led Mountaineers were slotted in as the no-brainer pick to run away with the Big East and, many felt, cruise through their seemingly watered-down schedule. That senior-laden team, however, lost their last three games to finish 8-4 and out of the BCS.
Last year's young team took the opposite approach, entering the season under the radar and pegged as rebuilding. They rebuilt all right -- quickly. Buoyed by the breakout rushing performances of speedy tailback Slaton (1,127 yards, 17 touchdowns) and fleet-footed quarterback White (952 yards, 7.3 per carry) and an unsung defense (17.8 points per game, 13th in the nation), the Mountaineers rebounded from an early loss to Virginia Tech to win their last seven games, including a memorable 46-44, triple-overtime thriller over Louisville in which the then-unknown Slaton scored six touchdowns.