By Cam Huffman
For the Daily Telegraph
The “real senior day” for the West Virginia University football team won’t include the one departing Mountaineer who’s started more games than anyone else.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen — who said after the Mountaineers’ 59-10 win over Kansas in the regular season finale that the bowl would be his team’s “real senior day” — confirmed Wednesday night at the New Era Pinstripe Bowl media day that senior center Joe Madsen was ruled academically ineligible and didn’t make the trip to New York City for Saturday’s 3:15 p.m. matchup with Syracuse.
The active leader in career starts with 50 was also one of three WVU players ineligible for the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl.
“It’s disappointing that he didn’t take care of business,” said Holgorsen. “The expectation for our guys is to go to class, get good grades and leave West Virginia with a good quality education and a degree. Joey fell short of that, and we’re disappointed.”
Holgorsen wouldn’t give details on the plans moving forward without the middle piece of the offensive line puzzle, joking with reporters, “That’s for me to know and for you guys to try to figure out as soon as you can,” but quarterback Geno Smith didn’t take long to spoil the secret in his interview session.
“Braun’s a guy that’s pretty much started at every position on the offensive line, and we expect him to carry his weight, as he always does,” said Smith, letting the cat out of the bag that that senior guard Jeff Braun would be sliding over into the middle spot. “It’s unfortunate that Joey wasn’t able to be here with us, but that’s really his fault. He can’t blame anyone but himself.”
With Braun in the middle, junior Pat Eger, who has seen plenty of action on WVU’s ever-changing offensive line this season and made 18 career starts is the most likely man to fill the vacated spot.
Holgorsen said there was time to work on the change before the team left Morgantown, but he admitted there is some concern about how it will hold up against an aggressive Syracuse defense.
“They’re a very good, well-coached defense,” he said. “Their scheme is tricky, and they’re going to blitz us. Last year, their first 18 blitzes were different. It’s going to be challenging on our guys up front to handle that.
“We’re probably going to rely on Geno more than ever to see some things and point out some things,” he continued. “He’s experienced and understands the game as good as any quarterback I’ve ever been around. He can point out a lot of blitzes and get us targeted.”
The Mountaineers’ first practice in New York Wednesday didn’t go exactly as planned. Due to inclement weather in the area, the session, scheduled for Fordham University, was moved inside the WVU team hotel.
“We woke up to a blizzard,” said Holgorsen. “It’s not real cool, but we’ll deal with it. We didn’t practice, really, but we won’t use that as an excuse. We got a lot done in Morgantown, and we’ll put a good product out there.”
WVU really only spent one full week in Morgantown preparing for the game — the early sessions took on more of a spring practice feel — and they concluded last Friday, before the players went home for a Christmas break.
The team has another practice planned for Fordham today, but that will mark the first time in six days that they’ve been on an actual field together.
“We probably ought to forfeit,” Holgorsen joked, when asked about the lack of practice time. “It not ideal, but this is my 13th bowl game and all 13 of them has been a different approach. When it’s a different opponent, a different time, a different city and different facilities, everything’s different. We knew we had to get a lot of our work done (in Morgantown). We can meet a bunch and try to refresh these guys.
“We got enough work done.”
Before today’s practice, Holgorsen and Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib will visit the New York Stock Exchange and ring the opening bell at 9:30 a.m.
Also attending the event will be Randy Levine, the president of the New York Yankees, Chris Koch, the CEO of New Era Cap), WVU wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith, Syracuse players Siriki Diabate, Justin Pugh and Shamarko Thomas and Orange head coach Doug Marrone.