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WVU hype begins now

by Anthony Hanshew

SPORTS EDITOR

How's this for hype?

The 2000 West Virginia University football season promises to be the most intriguing since the days of Major Harris. Yes, it's only mid-March but with spring drills beginning this week, it's never too early to let the banter begin.

Both optimists and those who see the glass half empty have plenty of fodder.

The former can look to the Mountaineers season finale, a 52-21 drubbing of Pitt(sburgh). It was by far West Virginia's most complete effort and left fans clamoring for more.

The latter, well, can for the most part reflect on the previous 10 games. Injuries and a lack of cohesiveness resulted in one frustrating weekend after another.

For those who have wiped the following from your memory banks, I apologize. A home loss to Navy and an embarrassing whitewash at Maryland represented low points in a 4-7 campaign, tied for the worst in coach Don Nehlen's 20 years.

But, with the 2000 Mountaineers strapping on the pads for the first time this week, the 1999 season finally can be put to rest. Besides, unlike previous seasons, there are more subplots than a good week on General Hospital.

Among the hot topics in Morgantown:

n A REVAMPED COACHING STAFF: At virtually any other major college program, an upheaval among assistants barely would draw notice. Coaches come and go. They're nomadic by nature, each looking for that dream job.

Not so in Morgantown. Many on Nehlen's staff have been around since Arch Moore and A. James Manchin were top dogs in Charleston.

Doc Holliday and Dan Simrell have left since New Years, taking 33 years of Mountaineer experience with them. Simrell left as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to go home to Findlay (Ohio).

Economics helped lure Holliday, receivers coach and, more importantly, WVU's No. 1 Florida recruiter, to N.C. State. Long-term, his loss might prove more damaging than those of Marc Bulger or Barrett Green.

More recently, Tony Pierce exited to become co-defensive coordinator at Wake Forest.

Bill Stewart was brought in from the Canadian Football League to coach quarterbacks and former Kent coach Frank Kurth will take over the receivers.

n WHERE ARE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES? Last season, everyone had it pegged. Poor Bulger and an unknown group of running backs wouldn't have a chance in front of a green offensive line. No problem, though, because WVU's defense, in particular the secondary, would shut opponents down.

Turned out the offensive line was fine; tailback Avon Cobourne was a star in the making and the defensive backs couldn't cover Bette Davis, much less Virginia Tech's Andre Davis.

This year, the offense gets the early nod. Four offensive linemen return, Cobourne merely broke Amos Zereoue's freshman rushing record, and Brad Lewis is proven behind center.

Defensively, it will be interesting to see if the handful of 250- and 260-pound linemen have bulked up to a competitive weight. Then there's the issue of four brand new defensive backs ...

Let the hype begin. Too bad the season doesn't start for another 174 days.

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