MORGANTOWN - When Cincinnati steps onto Mountaineer Field Saturday to face West Virginia, it will be with a small army of ex-Mountaineers of one ilk or another wearing Bearcat colors.
But this isn't about former WVU wide receivers coach Butch Jones, now the head coach at UC. Nor is it a piece on former WVU players Jahmile Addae, Brandon Myles or Milo Austin, now either assistant coaches or involved with the Cincinnati support staff. Ditto Dave Lawson, a seven-year veteran of the West Virginia strength and conditioning staff who is now Cincinnati's director of strength and conditioning, or his top assistant Mike Szerszen, a former WVU graduate assistant.
No, this is about a guy who would have loved to have simply been offered a chance to come to West Virginia but never was. It's not that Zach Collaros would have taken the Mountaineers up on an offer. Who knows for certain?
But just being given the chance would have been nice.
And so when Collaros has a chance now to face West Virginia or Pitt, two schools much closer to his Steubenville, Ohio, home than Cincinnati, he likes to remember that neither wanted him. It's not a malicious thing, just sort of motivational.
"I grew up an Ohio State fan, but I was a lot closer to Pitt and West Virginia. I have friends on those teams. I have a couple of friends playing for West Virginia,'' Collaros said, mentioning fellow Steubenville grad Branko Busick. "Obviously you want to beat them because you didn't get recruited by them. I got a couple of letters from West Virginia, but I didn't get anything from Pitt. Of course, I didn't really get recruited by anybody.
"Cincinnati gave me a chance and it's worked out and thank God I'm here. I'm really blessed to have landed in Cincinnati.''
Here's the deal on Collaros, who is expected to return from an injury absence and start at quarterback for the Bearcats on Saturday when they face West Virginia. He's an undersized quarterback without the strongest of arms or the quickest of feet. As a high school player hoping to be recruited, that's a lethal combination even if you're playing for a Steubenville team that you just quarterbacked to a 30-0 record and two state championships.
Cincinnati took a chance on him in the 2007 signing class, back when Brian Kelly had just been named coach and the Bearcats had not yet escaped the mediocrity that had haunted the program for decades.
How's that worked out? Well, Collaros redshirted his first year and played sparingly his second. But as a third-year sophomore last season he was simply magnificent in relief of injured Tony Pike as the Bearcats went 12-1. This year he's leading the Big East in every significant passing and total offense category, and it's not even close. Collaros is averaging more than 60 yards more in passing and total offense than the league's No. 2, West Virginia's Geno Smith. He's thrown 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Collaros wouldn't trade all that for anything, save perhaps a few more wins in a disappointing 2010 season.
Still, what's wrong with looking back and recalling that the team on the other side of the ball - the ones in your own back yard in the case of WVU and Pitt - had no use for you?