MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – So, how has your summer been going so far?
 
It’s been pretty warm here in North Central West Virginia with the thermometer approaching 100 degrees on a couple of occasions last week. 
 
This week has started off much cooler, and the mercury is not expected to exceed 86 degrees before Friday, which will be a welcomed relief.
 
I see that veteran wordsmith Bob Hertzel has remained busy writing about the Mountaineers, as have Joe Brocato, Keenan Cummings, Cody Nespor and Mike Casazza.
 
The lead story on our website this morning was Mike Montoro‘s press release announcing that the 304 Mobile Season Football Tickets have sold out, continuing the trend of strong football ticket sales this summer.
 
WVU has already exceeded last year’s season ticket sales total and look for continued strong sales once the general public begins purchasing mini packages and single-game tickets after July 4.
 
Meanwhile, as I write this, at the bottom of the web page is a countdown clock to the 2024 season opener against Penn State that now reads 67 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes until the Big Noon kickoff against the Nittany Lions.
 
Yes, we are approaching two months until West Virginia plays its most eagerly anticipated home opener since 1998 when the No. 11-ranked Mountaineers faced No. 1 Ohio State under the lights at what was then still known as Mountaineer Field.
 

West Virginia vs. Ohio State 1998
Mountaineer Field was electric in 1998 when 11th-ranked West Virginia played host to top-ranked Ohio State to kick off the season (WVU Athletics Communications photo).

I was on the WVU staff at the time, 26 years ago, and, yes, I do have some vivid memories of the days and weeks leading up to that game.
 
On paper, Ohio State was loaded with nearly every starter returning from the prior year’s 10-3 squad that played in the Sugar Bowl. 
 
West Virginia, too, had a strong nucleus of players coming back for veteran coach Don Nehlen – concluding another five-year cycle that began with a national championship-game appearance in 1989 and followed with a Sugar Bowl trip five years later in 1994.
 
I remember reading the late Mickey Furfari describing the West Virginia-Ohio State game as “the most ballyhooed regular-season athletic event in WVU’s history – home or away.”
 
The title to one of the stories Bob Hertzel wrote in the Dominion Post called it “The Game of the Decade.”
 
Even with the stadium’s capacity much larger than the current 60,000 setup, tickets were virtually impossible to get. All the rooms at the Hampton Inn, the hotel closest to the stadium at the time, had been booked solid for more than a year.
 
In fact, every hotel room from Morgantown to St. Clairsville, Ohio – nearly an hour and a half drive away from campus – were sold out. One desperate fan from New Jersey called the WVU Visitors Center begging for a room, explaining that he just wanted a place to take a shower.
 
They handed him off to the city’s homeless shelter, the Bartlett House.
 
The WVU Alumni Association had rallies in three different West Virginia cities during the week leading up to the game and area restaurant owner Rocco Muriale refused to take any more catering clients after entertaining more than 2,000 requests during the weekend of the opener.
 
Fans desperate to get into the stadium were paying more than $450 for something between the 20-yard lines and $250 for end zone seats. 
 
A regular ticket back then was just $25. 
 
The University police also received complaints from fans who said they were offered tickets to a fictitious 400 section at Mountaineer Field.
 
I remember former West Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Jacobs switching sides to run Ohio State’s offense, which made for an interesting side story, and I also recall the Buckeyes’ star linebacker, Andy Katzenmoyer, needing to pass a couple of summer school classes to become eligible to play in the game.
 
The courses Katzenmoyer needed to pass were music, golf and AIDS awareness, so that was basically a non-story.
 
I remember a sea of satellite trucks lined up outside the stadium beginning on Monday of game week, and I recall CBS’ No. 1 announcing crew of Sean McDonough, Terry Donahue and Mike Mayock being on hand to handle the broadcast.
 
It was the first college football game in history to be televised in high definition, which amounted to a small sliver of homes in the Columbus area. It was also the first WVU sporting event to have real-time statistics made available on the Internet through a new company called Total College Sports Network.
 
I think about these things because it’s probably been that long since something comparable is about to happen around here later this summer.
 

2011 ESPn College Game Day
ESPN’s College Game Day crew was in town dor West Virginia’s meeting against No. 2 LSU in 2011 (WVU photo/Brian Persinger).

We are still a month away from the release of preseason polls, and most of the football magazines are still at press, but the Athlon Sports that is presently in my possession has Penn State ranked eighth in the country to begin the year.
 
This is what Athlon writes about coach James Franklin’s 11th Nittany Lion football team:
 
Close is the best way to describe Penn State under coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions have five double-digit win season over the last eight years but have only one Big Ten title and zero CFB Playoff trips in that span. In order to break that drought, Penn State needs quarterback Drew Allar to take a step forward after an up-and-down debut. Allar will benefit from the arrival of former Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, but question marks remain at receiver. The Nittany Lions have had one of the nation’s top defenses in recent years and shouldn’t regress much with six starters back under new coordinator Tom Allen.
 
Athlon does not have Neal Brown‘s Mountaineers in its top 25, but it does have them at No. 26. The vibe you get from the folks over at the Milan Puskar Center is that the national media is sleeping on WVU once again this year. 
 
Brown and his coaching staff point to an impressive Duke’s Mayo Bowl triumph over North Carolina last December and the return of nearly all the key components from that victory on offense, including land-and-air specialist Garrett Greene and his 29 combined touchdowns at quarterback.
 
For a guy who has attempted just 385 career passes, Greene might be the most experienced inexperienced starting quarterback in the college game today. His 1,370 career rushing yards, 22 touchdowns and 6.6 yards-per-carry average are certainly worth noting.
 
Brown also likes his returning left tackle, Wyatt Milum, left guard Tomas Rimac, tight end Kole Taylor, running backs Jahiem White and C.J. Donaldson and receivers Traylon Ray, Hudson Clement, Preston Fox and Rodney Gallagher III.
 
Based on his performance during spring practice, Oklahoma State transfer Jaden Bray is another guy to keep a close eye on at wide receiver as well.
 
Defensively, Brown has got Sean Martin and Eddie Vesterinen back up front to go along with safeties Aubrey Burks and Anthony Wilson and young linebackers Ben Cutter and Trey Lathan.
 
The sixth-year coach is also excited about transfers Garnett Hollis and Ayden Garnes at corner, and up-and-coming middle linebacker Josiah Trotter – the most heavily recruited player West Virginia has signed during Brown’s tenure here.
 
Collectively, it’s probably the best cast of players West Virginia has had here in years.
 
FOX is betting big on its Big Noon Kickoff slot and having the West Virginia-Penn State game as its opener to the college football season is indicative of the interest the TV people have for this football game.
 
Last year’s West Virginia-Penn State contest in State College was the second-most watched Labor Day Saturday primetime telecast on NBC since 2015, and it was the most eyeballs to see a Neal Brown-coached WVU football team with more than 4.4 million viewers at its peak.
 
FOX’s “Big Noon Saturday” last year averaged a 3.6 rating and 6.74 million viewers, its highest average ever for the series, making it one of the most-watched windows of the day. The advertising and promotion the network will be doing in August leading up to kickoff is going to create additional interest and buzz for the game.
 
And while FOX’s “Big Noon Kickoff” crew of Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Urban Meyer, Charles Woodson, Clay Travis, Tom Verducci, Bruce Feldman, Tom Rinaldi and Chris “Bear” Fallica hasn’t quite caught ESPN’s College Game Day yet in overall popularity, the gap is closing considerably.
 

Avon Cobourne Notre Dame 2000
Running back Avon Cobourne scampers into the end zone during West Virginia’s sell-out game against Notre Dame in 2000 (WVU Athletics Communications photo).

The studio crew will be on site in Morgantown for the season opener and will spend the last portion of the show getting viewers ready for the game.
 
That is going to make for an electric atmosphere in Morgantown, noon or night. 
 
It’s going to be just like the atmosphere here in 2014 when ESPN College Game Day was in town for the TCU game, or in 2011 when West Virginia faced second-ranked LSU.
 
The Notre Dame game in 2000, Wisconsin in 2003 and Pitt last year were other great environments as well.
 
Things are calm and peaceful here in Morgantown right now, if maybe a little too hot, but the calm and peaceful part is about to change.
 
It’s now 67 days, 20 hours and 26 minutes until kickoff … and counting.
 



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *