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Backyard Brawl, WVU hoops, Heisman talk

THE VIEWS from here:

  • OK, call me sappy. But the WVU-Pitt football game always floods me with nostalgia. Can still see the little color television in my parents' home - and through it watching Warwood's Bill McKenzie booting a 38-yard field goal to give West Virginia a stunning 17-14 victory over Tony Dorsett and Pitt in 1975.
  • Of course over my (clear throat, cough)-career covering WVU, I've witnessed many fine games. (No, I wasn't there for the first one, held in Wheeling, in 1895, or the second one, held in Fairmont, in 1896. Nor was I there in 1921, when the teams played the first college football game broadcast by radio via KDKA. Tony Caridi, however, did handle the play-by-play that day.)

    I've covered historic Backyard Brawls, like the 2007 game when, on the series' 100th anniversary, a 4-7 Pitt team stunned the nation by defeating a WVU team set for a national championship appearance. I've covered thrilling games, like that of '94, when Peterstown's Chad Johnston hit Tridelphia's Zach Abraham with 15 seconds left to secure a 47-41 Mountaineer win. Was around when Jeff Hostetler put together WVU's version of "The Drive" in a 24-21 Mountaineer win in Morgantown.

    I dug the Nike Pro Combat uniforms of last season's game. Kind of like the animosity between WVU's Dana Holgorsen and Pitt's Todd Graham heading into this one.

    So the series health is a concern to this longtime observer, as I'm sure it is to many in the Mountain and Keystone states. WVU, you might have heard, is moving to the Big 12 and Pitt is moving to the ACC.

    Will there be a Backyard Brawl next season, as there has been every year since 1943?

    "I've talked to [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson," said WVU athletic director Oliver Luck on Monday. "The short answer is neither one of us knows right now.

    "There is significant interest from both. But we won't know until the situation stabilizes. We very well could miss a year or two."

    The "situation" of course centers on the lawsuits involving WVU and the Big East. Luck said he spoke to Pederson last week.

  • Gut feeling: Friday's version of the Backyard Brawl will be fun to watch. Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith has better stats than Pitt's Tino Sunseri, but both are completing around 64 percent of their passes.
  • With standout Ray Graham out for the season, both offensive backfields are in the same position: searching. WVU has better receivers, but Pitt has a better offensive line. Both have holes at linebacker.

    Should be a good one. Expecting points on the board.

  • While on the subject of close contests, the Heisman Trophy race just might be tight. My Heisman Trophy ballot arrived on Monday and I took a precursor look at the candidates.
  • Know this: It might not be a runaway for Luck's son, Andrew, Stanford's quarterback, expected to be the NFL's top pick in the 2012 draft.

    Andrew Luck has fared very well, completing 70.3 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,937 yards for the Cardinal. He's fifth nationally in pass efficiency.

    But check out the four ahead of him in the stats: Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Houston's Case Keenum and Boise State's Kellen Moore.

    All are solid candidates. Keenum is also No. 1 in passing yards with 4,269 and yards per game (388). He's hitting 73.4 percent of his passes. Griffin, who engineered the upset of Oklahoma, is hitting 73 percent of his passes and has 3,572 yards.

    Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden is No. 2 in passing, averaging 32.3 completions a game.

    Like runners? Wisconsin's Montee Ball is leading the country by averaging 133.3 rushing yards. Tacklers? Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechley is leading the nation by averaging 16.55. By recording 14 tackles against Notre Dame, he set a new ACC record for career tackles with 523 tackles in 33 games. Sackers? Whitney Mercilus of Illinois has 13.5. (Great name for a pass rusher, eh?)

    Understand WVU's Geno Smith is just a cut below the front-runners. He's sixth nationally in passing yards, eighth in completions per game and No. 21 in pass efficiency. Teammate Tavon Austin is the nation's No. 2 all-purpose runner. Also, Marshall's Vinny Curry is fourth nationally in sacks with 11 and No. 2 in tackles for loss (1.86 per game average).

  • A call to the Civic Center uncovered there are "plenty of tickets available" for today's Morehead State-WVU men's basketball matchup. "Plenty," however, could be a stretch.
  • "We've been selling them almost constantly all day," said Civic Center box office manager Regina Baire.

    Those interested may call the Civic Center at 304-345-7469 (extension 0) or hit the ticket office from 10 a.m. through game time.

  • And finally ...
  • Our state lost a gem over the weekend when Nate Crescenzi passed away at 82 at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

    Crescenzi was a basketball, football and baseball coach at Barrackville High. The Bisons won a state title under him in 1968. Crescenzi then went on to coach hoops at North Marion.

    Crescenzi was also a administrator, but what made him special was his easy way with people, his volunteer efforts and the way he combined education and sports.

    He helped form Pop Warner football, elementary and AAU teams. He worked for his county Board of Education. But what Crescenzi will be remembered for is his insistence of education taking precedence over sports.

    Many talk the talk. He walked the walk.

    Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

     


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