It’s week No. 1 for college football and that means one thing.
Here are my picks for West Virginia University’s game against James Madison at 2 p.m. Saturday in Morgantown and Marshall University’s 6:30 p.m. contest against VMI in Huntington.
n First, the Mountaineers.
This is not the sort of season opener Neal Brown needed.
WVU’s first-year head coach needed to make his debut while wading into the schedule and getting his ankles wet.
Instead, Brown has to jump in. Not in over his head, perhaps, but not in the shallow end, either.
If the Mountaineers were going to open with an FCS (formerly I-AA) opponent it needed to be someone like Marshall is playing — VMI. Or Morgan State, for example.
But not James Madison.
The Dukes are dangerous. The Dukes are capable of making a Power Five opponent look bad on its own turf.
Just ask N.C. State.
James Madison gave the Wolfpack fits during the 2018 opener in Raleigh, North Carolina. With less than two minutes to play, N.C. State was clinging to a tenuous 17-13 lead before finally winning 24-13.
Heard Brown’s complimentary comments about JMU quarterback Ben DiNucci? He wasn’t blowing smoke. The former Pitt quarterback completed 23 of 27 passes against N.C. State for 197 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 14 times for 79 yards.
“He’s a winner,” said Brown of DiNucci. “He’s impressive and we’re not going to be too big for him. Obviously [he] started several games at Pitt, so he’s played in some atmospheres like he is going to see on Saturday afternoon. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
James Madison is not going to suffer from stage fright when the Dukes run out onto Mountaineer Field and hear 60,000 fans booing them in Milan Puskar Stadium.
Nobody knows that better than Brown.
“The thing that stands out to me is they start seven seniors and four juniors on defense,” he said. “And four of those seniors are fifth-year seniors and three of the juniors are fourth-year juniors.
“So, you’re talking about 11 guys over there starting that have experience. Ten of the 11 have been playing college football for four or more years. I don’t know if I have seen that in any of my years of coaching, playing against a defensive unit that has that much experience in games.”
All that translates into a tougher debut than Brown needed.
WVU will win, 27-21.
n Now, Marshall.
The “Hot Dog Wars” being waged in the concourse, stands and during tailgating at Joan C. Edwards Stadium probably will be more competitive than the actual game.
I mean, there’s a reason VMI is a 41-point underdog and has a 1-21 record during the last two seasons.
Yet, Marshall still will be fired up. Why? Just because it is the opening game.
“I’m just excited to go against another team,” said linebacker Omari Cobb.
Or as quarterback Isaiah Green pointed out, “They bring the house a lot of times. They send a lot of blitzes. We’ve just got to prepare not to give that stuff up. We’ve got to get the run game going.”
It probably won’t be the huge blowout people expect because MU will keep it very vanilla and not show future opponents such as Boise State much of the Herd’s offense. Marshall will run, run and run some more.
Marshall will win, 42-14.