Hidden reason why this game is important to Mountaineers
THERE ARE many reasons why West Virginia's football game Saturday at Maryland is important.
WVU must win to validate its Top 25 poll rankings. The Mountaineers need to win to bolster the Big East, which sagged last week.
Many (although I'm not one) subscribe to the theory the matchup's outcome is an indicator of how the teams will fare going forward. There's also that side rivalry of the Big East versus the ACC.
However, this series has become a little more important for WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen for another reason. And that reason can be found if you scan the recruiting commitment list.
So far, West Virginia has 18 commitments supposedly signing letters of intent in February, and one-third of those commitments come from the Maryland-Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.
Obviously, Holgorsen and new recruiting coordinator Alex Hammond have targeted the area and have made success there a priority.
It seems to be paying off. The Mountaineers not only have a large number of recruits from the swath, but, according to recruiting analysts, quality.
One of WVU's top two headliners in the shaping 2012 class (the other is 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive lineman Tyler Orlosky) is Deontay McManus, a consensus four-star wide receiver from Dunbar High in Baltimore.
McManus reportedly turned down schools like Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Auburn, Georgia and, yes, Maryland to commit to WVU.
But there's more. The other five from the area committed to the Mountaineers have been rated a three (of five stars) from at least one of the two major recruiting services, Rivals and Scout.
They are wideout Trevor Williams and defensive back Da'Quan Davis of Towson, Md.; athlete Albert Reid of Washington, D.C.; linebacker Sam Lebbie of Hyattsville, Md.; and Jarrod Harper of Frostburg, Md.
As you may know, the Big East followed a perfect first week with a less-than-impressive second week. (You get a hunch it's not a sparkling week for a BCS conference when its league representatives send a release that starts: "The most impressive performance came in Tampa, Fla., as USF rolled to a 37-7 win against Ball State.")
Anyway, rather than rehash the missed opportunities, let's look ahead. After falling to Vanderbilt last week, Connecticut hosts Iowa State. Pitt is at Iowa. (Apparently, it's Hawkeye State Week.) Louisville is at Kentucky. Syracuse is at USC.
The must-win game of that lot is on UConn. Iowa State was picked to finish next-to-last in the 10-team Big 12.
The other games, including the WVU-Maryland contest, show Big East teams as underdogs.
Of the top 16 all-time crowds at Maryland's Byrd Stadium, four involved WVU, including that of 54,715, No. 3 on the list, for the 1983 game won by the Mountaineers, 31-21.
Don't ask me why, but, for some reason, I found that interesting.
And finally . . .
The oddsmakers have the WVU-Maryland game nailed. (The Terrapins are one-point favorites.) If you break it down, the teams couldn't enter the game more evenly in regard to talent.
The most fun for fans will be watching the quarterbacks. Maryland's Danny O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year last season. WVU's Geno Smith leads the Big East in passing yards, total offense and pass efficiency.
But watch both teams' secondary to see where this one will be won or lost.
Holgorsen and Smith will have to attack the Terps' defensive backfield, which allowed 195 passing yards to Miami, Fla. WVU, meanwhile, has allowed but an average of 156 passing yards to Marshall (in a shortened game) and Norfolk State. But so far the Mountaineers have zero interceptions.
Should be fun to watch.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.