MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On Aug. 17, two weeks before West Virginia’s season opener, former NFL Pro Bowler Ray Childress was doing the proud-father bit, discussing how his son Ford had always been gutsy, resilient and self-assured. That also just happened to be the day Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson planned to establish a preseason pecking order at quarterback.
What if Ford wasn’t the chosen one?
“Regardless, I believe Dana has that program headed in the right direction,” Ray Childress said.
And so it came to pass that Ford Childress wasn’t Holgorsen’s No. 1 pick, or even No. 2, but rather the designated third guy in a three-man race. That revelation did not sit well with the redshirt freshman, who proclaimed just days before that he planned on being a four-year starter at West Virginia. With two juniors stacked ahead of him on the depth chart, many young quarterbacks would have started speed-dialing transfer destinations.
Childress stayed, however, and just two low-scoring games into WVU’s season, he owns the starting job.
“He’s never ruffled,” said Stephen Hill, who coached Childress for two seasons at The Kincaid School in Houston. “He’s the most mentally tough kid I’ve ever coached. So cool and calm, and that’s what you need in a big-time quarterback.”
Upon arriving at Kincaid the spring before Childress’ junior year, Hill scrapped the veer offense—one that had the 6-foot-5 Childress playing tight end—and installed a spread attack that returned Childress to quarterback. The new offense was still clunky and disorganized when the team traveled to a summertime 7-on-7 qualifying tournament, and Hill, prohibited from coaching, wasn’t optimistic his kids could line up correctly, much less advance to state.
“Then Ford jumps out there and starts calling the plays himself, like he really knew the offense, and it really opened my eyes to how good he was,” Hill said. “It was a big tournament and we finished second, and Ford was all the coaches were talking about.”
Fast-forward to the season opener that fall, when Childress’ toughness surfaced faster than Hill hoped. “It was like the first series we played—we missed a blitz and Ford gets hit,” the coach said. “He comes over to the sideline and his hand is big and swollen, so I told him to get some ice on it. But he said he didn’t use ice because ‘My dad always said we’ve got to be tough.’
“He played the rest of the game and did fine.”
On Saturday, when Childress takes control of the WVU offense, he might sense he’s still at a 7-on-7 tournament, facing an outmanned Georgia State defense that last week fell behind 42-0 to UT-Chattanooga. Holgorsen doesn’t plan on rotating quarterbacks, giving Childress—who has never played in a college game—an extended audition.
With WVU favored by 40, we’ll see what elements of Childress’ play left Holgorsen more encouraged this week (as opposed to what led him to make Childress third-string in the preseason). After two punchless efforts, Holgorsen is impatient to get the offense once more headed in the right direction.
Pick: West Virginia 60-7
Ranking the other Big 12 games:
1. Texas 42, No. 25 Ole MIss 36: (Longhorns -2.5) If Rebels QB Bo Wallace rushes for fewer than 259 yards then the Greg Robinson-for-Manny Diaz swap will become the “Mack Brown What-a-Burger Move of the Game.” With the Horns in complete disarray, why pick them? Because they waxed Ole Miss by 35 last year in Oxford, and even with David Ash nursing head, shoulder and pride injuries this weekend, take UT to sweep the series.
2. No. 14 Oklahoma 38, Tulsa 10: (Sooners -24.5) OU’s defense is allowing 3.5 points per game, putting it on a pace ahead of the Sooners baseball team that gave up 3.7 runs last season. Fan favorite Blake Bell takes over at QB against a Tulsa team that hasn’t knocked off a top-15 team in 22 seasons.
3. Rice 27, Kansas 23: (Owls -6) Charlie Weis says he sensed great improvement in the Jayhawks passing game, and he sensed this based upon Jake Heaps throwing for a whopping 110 yards … against an FCS team. I want to defer to Weis, the brilliant offensive mind, but it’s hard to ignore his 2-11 record at KU, particularly when both victories came against lower-division teams. Rice is not a lower-division team, and in fact, made it to a bowl game last year (who knew, right?). Perhaps Weis will find even more improvement after Kansas drops its 20th straight road game.
4. Iowa State 20, Iowa 17: (Hawkeyes -2) Who can forget last year’s Cy-Hawk Classic, won 9-6 by the Cyclones? I still get goose bumps recalling the six turnovers, 14 punts and 12,999 times Iowa fans griped about Kirk Ferentz making nearly $4 million annually.
5. No. 12 Oklahoma State 50, Lamar 16: (Cowboys -47) They’re burning swimsuit issues in Stillwater after a hellish week of Sports Illustrated slow-playing its series on corruption, drugs, sex and academic fraud within the OSU football program. While delivering a black eye to the school’s perception, Cowboys backers are alleging the series is SI’s best work of fiction since Sidd Finch.
6. Kansas State 44, UMass 10: (Wildcats -39) The Minutemen were 1-11 last year and last week lost to Maine, the only team they were projected to beat this year. K-State crawled out of its Week 1 ashes to defeat Louisiana-Lafayette and should cruise Saturday against perhaps the worst FBS team in the country. (Good luck to Bill Snyder finding a Minutemen player worthy of writing a letter to.)