Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 6, 2014

College football: Week 4 features Big 12, ACC openers for WVU, Virginia Tech

BLUEFIELD — Week 4 of the college football season will include the start of the Big 12 schedule for West Virginia.

What a way to start.

Oklahoma, which finished 11-2 in 2013, including a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, is the Big 12 favorite to open the campaign, and could be ranked among the Top 5 teams when the season begins in less than two months.

It is also the Sooners’ Big 12 opener, much like it was last year when Oklahoma had to hold off the Mountaineers 16-7. That was the complete opposite of the Sooners’ visit to Morgantown in 2012 when West Virginia dropped a thrilling 50-49 decision.

What awaits in 2014?

That is just one of two conference openers involving regional teams in Week 4, with the Hokies slated to host Georgia Tech in ACC action. Marshall will complete its non-league schedule at Akron, while Virginia  visit Brigham Young.

In local action, Concord will host Bowie State, while Bluefield stays on the road for a third straight week at Kentucky Christian.

West Virginia has lost its only two Big 12 meetings with the Sooners by a combined 10 points. The previous game between the clubs was a 48-28 rout by the Mountaineers at the Fiesta Bowl as part of the 2007 season.

At least one preseason publication has rated West Virginia’s schedule as the fourth toughest in America. No wonder, the Mountaineers will play Alabama in Week 1, follow that up in Week 3 with much-improved Maryland, and then the Sooners come to Morgantown.

Fortunately, a week off will follow.

Oklahoma returns 14 starters from 2013, including quarterback Trevor Knight, who is expected to start ahead of Blake Bell, also known as the “Belldozer”. Knight threw for 348 yards in the win over Alabama.

The Sooners did lose its top three performers at running back, and three of four at receiver, but Oklahoma will have three games to find answers at those positions, including a Week 3 visit from Tennessee of the SEC.

Defensively, Oklahoma is expected to be loaded, returning nine starters, including its top three tacklers from last season.

West Virginia, which could enter this contest needing a win to avoid an 1-3 start, will need to jump on the Sooners early. Oklahoma has won its last 41 straight games when leading at halftime.

Both teams turned the ball over four times in last year’s defensive affair. West Virginia led 7-3 in the second quarter, but never scored again. Do that again on defense, and avoid miscues offense, and West Virginia could be playing for an upset in the second half.

Don’t count out the Mountaineers in this one. The defense will be better than it has been in the past, and West Virginia will have potent running attack, led by Rushel Shell and offensive guard Quinton Spain.

Still, the Sooners will prove to be too much in what could be closer than what most so-called experts expect.

Prediction: Oklahoma (West Virginia starts 1-3 in ‘14).  

Virginia Tech will open the ACC slate with the Coastal Division foe Yellow Jackets, who are 1-6 in their last seven games against the Hokies, losing the last four by an average of just seven points an outing.

In all, Georgia Tech is just 3-8 all-time against Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech will be playing its second of three straight home games after its visit to Ohio State. The Hokies, which will be a heavy underdog against the Buckeyes, could be seeking its third 3-1 start in the last three years.

The heat is apparently on Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, whose triple-option attack has produced two straight seven-win seasons, and no more than eight wins over the last four years.

Georgia Tech should enter with an unblemished 3-0 record, playing Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern. Who the Yellow Jackets’ quarterback will be in question heading into the season, and they also lost their top three running backs, which is a definite problem in the triple-option, especially against Virginia Tech’s potent defensive unit.

The Yellow Jackets are a definite threat to get to their 18th straight bowl game, but winning in Blacksburg isn’t going to happen this season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech (3-1 in 2014).

Marshall will travel to Akron, the Thundering Herd’s first game with the Zips since their days in the Mid-American Conference.

One streak will be at stake, with the visitor losing each of the last four games in his series, including a 31-28 loss by Marshall in 2004.

That happened 10 years ago, and certainly won’t matter in this one.

Marshall will be looking to complete its non-league slate with a perfect 4-0 record, something that hasn’t happened since 2004.

This one will also be followed by a bye week before beginning Conference USA play.

Akron, which is led by former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden, improved to 5-7 last season, a vast improvement for a club that had three consecutive 1-11 records before then. Two of the victims last year had a combined one win, and they squeaked past FCS foe James Madison by 2.

The Zips face a tough early schedule, with Penn State, Marshall and Pittsburgh among its first four games.

Akron does return seven starters on each side of the ball, and could give the Thundering Herd some problems, but not enough to pull off the win.

Marshall hasn’t started 4-0 since 1999 when the Herd won the MAC, defeated Brigham Young in the Motor City Bowl to finish the season with a 13-0 record.

Much has been made that Marshall could do it again in 2014.

Prediction: Marshall (4-0 in 2014).

Virginia makes its first road trip of the season a long one, traveling to Brigham Young, which is still playing in the world of the Independents, with some speculation that the Cougars would be a good fit if the Big 12 ever decides to actually possess 12 teams.

The Cavaliers won 19-16 last year, started the year 1-2, and didn’t win again. Virginia is 3-1 all-time against BYU, including a 45-40 win in its only visit to Utah way back in 1999.

Virginia, which opens the season with three home games — including UCLA and Louisville — have struggled away from Scott Stadium in road openers, going 3-10 since 2001. Ironically, the Cavaliers are 2-6 since 2004 after three or more home games.

Brigham Young followed up that loss to Virginia last season with a rout of Texas, which may have accelerated what proved to be the final season of Mack Brown at the Longhorns.

Stopping Tayson Hill will be the key for Virginia. The junior signal-caller ran for 1,344 yards and 10 scores last season, and also threw for 2,938 yards and another 19 touchdowns, along with 14 interceptions.

Jamaal Williams is also a weapon, running for 1,233 yards and seven scores last year for the Cougars. BYU, which plays on Thursday the previous week against Houston, will have 10 days to prepare for the Cavs.

Slowing down Hill will be a tall task, especially on the road.

Prediction: BYU (Virginia, 1-3 in 2014).

Concord will seek to avenge a 16-10 loss last season at Bowie State in Maryland.

The Mountain Lions will also be looking for its first 3-0 start since 2009.

Concord will step out of the Mountain East Conference after opening the season with Glenville State and West Virginia State.

Bowie State has been consistent, winning between four and six games since 2009. The Bulldogs, who were 5-5 in each of the last two years, will face FCS opponent Morgan State in Week 3.

Going on the road for a second straight week will be a tough task for the Bulldogs. The Mountain Lions stay perfect.

Prediction: Concord (3-0 in 2014).

Bluefield will make its third straight road trip with a visit to Mid-South Conference foe Kentucky Christian, which finished 3-8 last season, including a 38-7 win over the Rams.

Gene Peterson, who replaced current Marshall wide receiver coach Mike Furrey, as head coach last season, will finally be able to make his home debut against the Rams, starting the campaign with three games on the road, including a visit to FCS Tennessee Tech.

Kentucky Christian will follow this one with another road trip to MSC powerhouse Georgetown so the Knights will be mighty motivated for this one.

Bluefield will play four of its remaining seven games at home, but a third straight road trip against a foe playing its first home game will spell doom for the Rams.

Prediction: Kentucky Christian (Bluefield, 0-4 in 2014).

Week 5, which will be games played on Sept. 27, will feature homecoming for Bluefield against Cumberland University, while Concord will host West Liberty.

Regionally, both Virginia schools will host MAC schools, with Western Michigan visiting the Hokies, and Kent State facing the Cavaliers.

Both West Virginia and Marshall will have byes in Week 5.

—Brian Woodson at bwoodson @bdtonline.com / Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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