MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A pretty fair football player will wear the blue and gold No. 7 of West Virginia Saturday night in Baton Rouge, and LSU will counter with its own highly regarded No.7.
LSU's No. 7 is junior cornerback Patrick Peterson, considered by some to be the best cornerback in college football. West Virginia's No. 7 is senior running back Noel Devine, who can do a few things with the football.
Peterson, who will lead the Tigers (3-0) against the Mountaineers (3-0) at Tiger Stadium, is one of the best at preventing opposing receivers from getting their hands on the football.
Here's a sample what West Virginia staff members had to say about the 6-foot-1, 222-pound product of Pompano Beach, Fla.
"He is tremendous, he is great, he should be up for the Heisman," coach Bill Stewart said. "The guy is the best defensive back in the country."
And how about offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, who must devise a game plan for the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers, knowing Peterson will be lurking somewhere across the scrimmage line?
"He is as good as I have ever seen," Mullen said. "When you watch tape, he is always on your best guy. He plays left side, right side, down the middle. You look at tape from last year, he was on Julio Jones at Alabama and A.J. Green at Georgia."
Through three games this season, Peterson -- who is a candidate for a lengthy list of awards and a surefire first-round NFL pick -- has two acrobatic interceptions, both which he tipped to himself in a win against Mississippi State. He returned one of those interceptions 46 yards.
Perhaps the most-telling statistic is this: He has zero pass breakups in the first three games. That much is indicative of opponents steering passes away from him.
That is how Peterson changes the game on defense.
There is also the special-teams component to his game.
As the primary punt- and kick-returner for the 15th-ranked Tigers, he has a 23.9-yard average returning punts, including one return for a touchdown -- and has returned six kickoffs for 167 yards (31.7-yard average).
Peterson's gifts and how he can change the course of a contest don't catch West Virginia senior linebacker J.T. Thomas off guard.
Thomas and Peterson were teammates at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. The West Virginia linebacker was two years ahead of Peterson.
"He was always good," Thomas said. "Now, I didn't know he'd turn out to be one of the top NFL draft picks, but he was always good."
There is one story that sticks in Thomas' mind about Peterson, one of those proving-ground moments that came after practice had broken up for the day at Ely.
It was a moment where a younger Peterson won the respect of the older guys.
A few guys were milling around, including Peterson, Thomas and Joshua Moore, a standout cornerback who played at Kansas State and now plays for the Chicago Bears. Moore was a few years older, but Peterson challenged him.
"They were doing one-on-ones," Thomas recalled that day in 2004.
"Those guys [Peterson and Moore] were after each other like two rabid dogs, just switching offense then defense, wide receiver and defensive back. Our starting quarterback was throwing the ball, and I knew, from watching [Peterson] there, I knew he was going to be a player."
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459.