West Virginia facing long odds in season opener today

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ATLANTA — The podium in West Virginia’s team room looked more like a pulpit Tuesday when coach Dana Holgorsen took the stand for his weekly media address.

Atop the lectern, encircled by microphones and recorders, was a red-leather Bible inscribed to graduate assistant Andrew McGee. Holgorsen picked up the weathered book, chuckled and moved it aside to make room for his notes.

Sure, it likely was more happenstance than game plan, but these Mountaineers could use a little divine inspiration as 26-point underdogs today in a David-and-Goliath matchup against No. 2 Alabama in the season-opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome.

This, the first meeting between West Virginia and Alabama, has more than a few familiarities. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban grew up in Monongah, W.Va., just outside Morgantown, and spent the 1978-79 seasons as an assistant coach under Frank Cignetti, Sr.

West Virginia football “was the biggest thing going when I was a kid,” Saban said Monday. “Going to Mountaineer Field to watch West Virginia play was the highlight of my year. I still have great memories of home … and I’ve always been a Mountaineer fan.”

And then there’s West Virginia starting quarterback Clint Trickett, who inadvertently sparked a social-media firestorm Tuesday with his sheepish admission that Saban’s daughter, Kristen, was his first kiss.

“We were like 6 years old!” Trickett quickly clarified, a smart move when you weren’t hit once in fall camp and that girl’s father is in command of 11 burly defenders.

Trickett’s father, Rick, is a longtime college assistant coach and was on Saban’s staff at LSU in 2000.

“Coach Nick is one of the greatest there is,” Trickett said.

Trickett played in eight games last season, starting seven, and was named the starter by Holgorsen in late June. He, like most of his teammates, is eager to get started.

“You know it’s the first game, you’ve been hitting each other all camp, you want to hit someone else,” Trickett said. “Add to the fact that it’s a team that’s almost been a dynasty, a team that’s a very well-built program. We know how good they are, and we’re going to show them how good we are.”

Alabama has yet to decide on a starting quarterback, still weighing options between dual-threat Blake Sims and pocket-passer Jacob Coker, a transfer from Florida State. Trickett played alongside Coker with the Seminoles and called him “one of the better throwers I’ve seen in my life.”

Holgorsen said “too much has been made” about Alabama’s quarterback battle.

“We have to be aware of who they are, as far as elusiveness of one,” the fourth-year head coach said. “There is only so much you can prepare for. The flip side of that is I doubt they’re going to have two different offenses for those two guys.”

The Mountaineers have won their past 10 season openers, but an upset today would be unprecedented. West Virginia never has beaten a team ranked first or second in the AP poll, though it took No. 2 Miami to the wire Oct. 2, 2003, before losing, 22-20.

Win or lose, Holgorsen said, the bigger coaching challenge will come Sunday, getting past today’s result to begin preparation for a Week 2 matchup against 2013 Division I-AA runner-up Towson.

“We will deal with that on Sunday,” Holgorsen said. “Our guys are going to be ready to play. Alabama guys are going to be ready to play. You can throw away favorites or underdogs, it doesn’t affect us one way or another.”

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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