Freshmen in spotlight for WVU, TCU
MORGANTOWN - The number of true and redshirt freshmen who have played for West Virginia this season keeps rising. Through seven games, the numbers so far are 12 true freshmen and 20 freshmen overall.
And while that pales in comparison to this week's opponent, TCU, it is likely a record for the Mountaineers.
The reason? Well, it's hard to argue against the fact that a with a head coach and an offensive staff in just its second year and a defensive staff mostly in its first, West Virginia's coaches are anxious to begin incorporating their own recruits into those systems.
But it's also difficult to shake the notion that, with West Virginia suffering through an embarrassing two-game losing streak in which the Mountaineers weren't even competitive against Texas Tech and Kansas State, there is simply a desire to begin building for the future.
That doesn't mean giving up on the present, but all things being equal why not try to rectify the problems that have arisen this season with players who aren't going to soon be gone?
Dana Holgorsen insists it's not a conscious effort to replace upperclassmen with underclassmen, but if that's the way it works out, so be it.
"It's based on what have you done for me lately,'' Holgorsen said. "You make the decision to play who you think is the better player. You have to figure out, is the ceiling higher for a younger kid versus an older kid? It usually is, but that doesn't always mean it is.''
As a point of reference, Holgorsen brought up wide receiver J.D. Woods, a fifth-year senior who had never really played much. Woods had an excellent camp leading up to the opening game against Marshall and earned a spot in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, players like true freshmen Travares Copeland and Devonte Robinson, who showed flashes of great promise, never quite grasped everything they needed to grasp.
But then lately, Woods' production has dropped and the freshmen have improved in practice. So at Texas Tech, Copeland played for the first time and the following week against Kansas State, Robinson followed.
And so now, Holgorsen insists, it's not so much who is younger, but who is more productive. But all things being equal, youth is likely to win out.
"After you make the decision, it's all about performance. If a guy is not performing, you make the change,'' Holgorsen said. "The biggest motivation in college football is playing time. But you don't want to sit a guy down that you don't think has a guy behind him that's better than him. You want to play the better player. You want to use playing as a motivation if you can, but our depth is the issue.''
This week's opponent, TCU (5-3, 2-3 Big 12), is in many ways similar to the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2), but in others far different. These are the teams that joined the Big 12 this season to much fanfare and both started well. TCU was 4-0 and ranked No. 15, WVU 5-0 and ranked No. 5.
But while West Virginia's downfall and problems are in a way mysterious - the offense that wowed for five games has suddenly become stagnant - TCU's are not. The Horned Frogs are 1-3 since quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested for DUI and then withdrew from school to enter substance abuse rehab. This is also the school that was shocked by a campus-wide drug bust early this year that included several football players.
In other words, TCU is rebuilding and doing it with youth. The team is tied with Texas for playing the most true freshmen in the country this season (16) and tied with LSU and North Carolina for the most overall freshmen (28). Nearly 70 percent of players who have played for the Horned Frogs this season are freshmen and sophomores.
BRIEFLY: Saturday's game will be televised by Fox and will kick off at 3 p.m. The networks (Fox and ESPN/ABC) delayed decisions on this weekend's Big 12 telecasts and kickoff times until after Saturday's results.
The other league games this weekend are Iowa State-Oklahoma (noon, ABC), Texas-Texas Tech (3:30 p.m., ABC), Baylor-Kansas (3:30 p.m., FSN), and Kansas State-Oklahoma State (8 p.m., ABC).
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1