Cook: West Virginia leads local entertainment

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We're not watching Alabama here. There might be a Heisman Trophy coming to our little corner of the college football world this season, but there will be no national champion. Sorry, West Virginia fans. Did you watch your defense Saturday?

But what we are watching has turned surprisingly interesting. Please don't tell me you saw it coming after Pitt was whacked at home by Youngstown State and outclassed at Cincinnati, after Penn State was crushed in the second half at home by Ohio and kicked away a game at Virginia. Don't try to argue that you predicted Pitt would be 2-2 with wins against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb heading into its game Friday night at Syracuse or that you thought Penn State would be 3-2 with wins against Navy, Temple and Illinois going into its game Saturday at home against Northwestern.

Seriously.

That would be lying.

Everybody knew West Virginia would be good, at least offensively. But this good? 70 points good?

OK, so maybe you did see West Virginia's 70-63 win Saturday at home against Baylor coming. The Mountaineers did hang up 70 points on Clemson in the Orange Bowl last season. But did you really expect quarterback Geno Smith to be this good? He threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns passes against Baylor. For the season, he has completed 83.4 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Let me write it again: 20 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Can you say Heisman?

We haven't had one around here since Pitt's Tony Dorsett won in 1976, although Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald (2003) and Hugh Green (1980) finished second as did Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (1994) and Chuck Fusina (1978).

"He's pretty level-headed," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Smith. "He comes in every Sunday and he's already watched the game on his iPad three or four times. He may know some of the corrections before I know some of the corrections ...

"He handles expectations by getting back to work as quick as possible. He's not one to get on the Internet and read a bunch of articles about himself or turn on TV. He honestly just loves the game and the feeling the game gives him when we have success."

Smith is feeling plenty good these days. West Virginia, off to a 4-0 start, is No. 8 in the Associated Press poll. A win Saturday night at No. 11 Texas should bump the Mountaineers even higher and encourage -- the defense's many shortcomings aside -- more national championship talk around the great state of West Virginia.

"This is a special place," Holgorsen said. "It's one of the best-kept secrets in the United States. The people here are so passionate about what's going on. With that comes expectations. Hopefully, we can live up to those expectations."

Pitt won't contend for the national title this season, but a Big East Conference championship no longer seems impossible. Penn State can't win the Big Ten Conference title because of NCAA sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case, but the best record in the league's Leaders Division isn't out of the question.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst deserves tremendous credit for keeping the Panthers together after the discouraging 0-2 start. They played a strong game to beat then-No. 13 Virginia Tech and did what was expected against overmatched Gardner-Webb. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and the passing game have made tremendous progress. The running game was lights out the past two games. The defense forced seven turnovers after not getting one in the first two games.

Pitt gets a shot at home Oct. 13 against Big East favorite/No. 19 Louisville, although there's not much chance Chryst will allow the Panthers to overlook Syracuse (1-3).

"It wasn't perfect the last two games so I hope we're getting better and not just trying to ride that wave," Chryst said.

Penn State has a chance at home to take down the Big Ten's final two unbeaten teams, Northwestern first, then Oct. 27 against Ohio State. "There's a ton to play for here," coach Bill O'Brien said when asked about the sanctions, which include a bowl ban.

O'Brien, who coached a man named Brady with the New England Patriots, has done wonders with quarterback Matt McGloin, who has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Penn State defense gave up only 27 points in the past three games and forced seven turnovers.

"It's all about the guys who stayed," O'Brien said. "At the end of the day, they're my type of football players. They're tough kids. They have a good sense of humor. They love to practice. They're on time for meetings. They go to class. We don't have 100 angels. That's not what I'm saying. But we have kids I enjoy being around."

What's happening at West Virginia, Pitt and Penn State comes at great time for us. The Pirates season is almost over, although we should be thankful for that. The Steelers must beat the Philadelphia Eagles at home Sunday to avoid a 1-3 start and falling further behind the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, each 3-1, in the AFC North Division. The Penguins won't start training camp until ...

Who knows, really?

A little entertaining college football will carry us a long way the next three months.

It's nice to think West Virginia, Pitt and Penn State will continue to provide it.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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