EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
On the surface, this appears to be perhaps one of the biggest mismatches ever for West Virginia. Even relative to many of the FCS schools the Mountaineers have played in recent years, Norfolk State is not traditionally strong. The Spartans finished 6-5 a year ago and that marked the first time in the Division I history of the program that the team had back-to-back winning seasons.
Still, Norfolk State opened last season at Rutgers and trailed just 6-0 at halftime before losing 31-0. So anything can happen, right?
Well, probably not. The Spartans return 14 starters from last year's team and have a pair of talented quarterbacks and some experience on defense. But this is also a team that in its three previous games against FBS competition lost by a combined 128-3.
Quarterback Chris Walley completed a school-record 61.1 percent of his passes in 2010 for 1,859 yards and 10 touchdowns, finished strong (nearly 80 percent completion rate in the last three games) and was the only Norfolk State quarterback to complete a pass. His job, though, is not safe. Nico Flores, a transfer from Central Florida, took part in spring practice and played right with Walley. Coach Pete Adrian said he would alternate the two at least through the first four games of the season. Flores is such a talented athlete that he was UCF's scout team star as a true freshman, simulating the best players on opposing teams. He was moved to wide receiver and played some Wildcat quarterback last season, but never adjusted to being a receiver and transferred in January.
But there's not much experience around those QBs. The Spartans lost their all-time rushing leader and four of the five starting linemen.
On the other side, Norfolk State's defense ranked sixth in the nation in the FCS a year ago and the top five tacklers return. The best is probably linebacker Corwin Hammond, who had 11 tackles for loss and is on a national watch list for FCS linebackers. Nose guard Josh Turner (6-foot, 315) had 12 tackles for loss.
Adrian, 62, has some serious West Virginia ties, the primary one being his graduation from WVU in 1970. Originally from Ohio, he played as a Mountaineer for a while in the late 1960s before injuries forced him to quit, but even then he served as the school's freshman coach as a senior in 1969. He graduated the following spring of 1970. ... On Adrian's staff as the defensive line coach is Mark Thurston, who was a linebacker at WVU in 1998 and 1999 before transferring to Illinois State. ... Maybe these teams could car pool: The week after this game, they play a few miles apart inside the Washington Beltway - WVU at Maryland and Norfolk State at Howard. ... Fans can get a Norfolk State season ticket for just $65. A single-game ticket to the team's game at WVU is $50. And that $65 season ticket is $10 less than a single-game ticket for the Mountaineers' game with LSU.