ATLANTA — Eight seasons after West Virginia closed the 2005 season with a stunning upset at the Georgia Dome, the Mountaineers are back again, where a repeat performance would be even more shocking.
No. 2-ranked Alabama remains nearly a four-touchdown favorite despite a potential quarterback dilemma and a top defender’s suspension. That’s a nod to Nick Saban’s championship legacy and relentless recruiting hauls the make “The Process” so productive. From an oddsmaking standpoint, Dana Holgorsen might deserve his own statue if WVU prevails today.
The quirks, quick-hits and quandaries of Saturday’s game:
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Radio: Coverage from noon through 9:30 p.m. on MetroNews stations throughout West Virginia.
Line: Alabama favored by 26.
Trickett ain’t scared: West Virginia obviously needs to protect Clint Trickett—who has worn a non-contact red jersey throughout the preseason—but the senior quarterback is jonesing to absorb that first hit. “I want to just get it over with. I want to do a quarterback draw on the first play to get it out of the way.”
K.J. Dillon ain’t scared either: West Virginia’s junior nickelback/linebacker barked loud and proud about his team’s underdog status. “I love every bit of it. I hope everybody in the nation goes against us.”… Dillon also deadpanned some humorous analysis by calling Alabama “just another team that we face—just a team that has multiple national championships, ranked No. 2 in the nation, top recruits and an awesome head coach.”
Cool running: Dreamius Smith said he isn’t fretting his role in West Virginia’s crowded backfield. “We all are going to rotate and get our plays. The ones with the hot hand, like the coaches say, are the ones that are going to get the ball the most,” he said. “Even when the ball’s not in my hands, I’m going to make good blocks and make good ball fakes.” … Alabama is replacing six players who started on the nation’s No. 7-ranked rushing defense last season. “They’re in the SEC and you’ve got to be physical,” Smith said. “They roll down strong and play to the whistle—all 11 people on their side of the ball.”
Tide standout MIA: Middle linebacker Trey DePriest, a preseason All-SEC pick and the heir apparent to follow C.J. Mosley as Alabama’s next Butkus Award contender, will miss the opener for what Nick Saban termed a “minor NCAA infraction.” In his place, Alabama sacrifices experience for better athleticism, with sophomore Reuben Foster and junior Reggie Ragland expected to platoon.
Big day for Bama’s DBs: Further mitigating the absence of DePriest, Saban said he anticipates the Crimson Tide defense playing nickel or dime 70 to 80 percent of the game.
Different play-calling perspectives: West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson will coach from the booth, but Lane Kiffin plans to be on the sideline. Get ready for roughly 3,000 tight shots of “The Lane Train” holding a play-card in front of his face.
More upset talk: Bridgeport High graduate Wes Tonkery, a camp surprise who figures to start at Sam linebacker, is one of only three in-state recruits on the Mountaineers two-deep. He’s hoping to be part of another WVU upset: “I’ve watched this team win big games in the past and I want to carry on the tradition.”
Why the Mountaineers have a chance: Because no one outside the program seems to think they do. There are only four FBS schools facing larger point spreads in Week 1, and coming off a 4-8 season, West Virginia is picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Yet the Mountaineers are more experienced than Alabama and could regain their offensive potency of recent seasons if Trickett clicks with a variety of dangerous skill players.