Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez on the Big East's critics: "No matter what we do as a league, they'll pounce on something."
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Before he attempted to shake up the Mountaineers' depth chart yesterday, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez tried to offer a word to shake up the football wise: overrated.
Not his own 10th-ranked Mountaineers. Not the Big East.
Rather, he meant that some other conferences who regularly appear in the voters' polls and BCS computer surveys are, to him, being ranked too highly. "Way overrated," was the precise phrase he invoked.
What particularly rankled Rodriguez was the notion that a one-loss team, perhaps from the Big Ten, Southeastern or Pac-10 conferences, ultimately could nose into the Jan. 8 national-championship game ahead of, say, an undefeated Big East team -- and Louisville, who vanquished West Virginia Thursday, and Rutgers meet Thursday to further settle that score.
"I think part of it is ... there's a faction of people that still look for things to criticize about the Big East," Rodriguez said.
If, instead of that 44-34 Cardinals victory, the long-awaited match between West Virginia and No. 3 Louisville "was a low-scoring game, [these critics] would've probably said there was no offense. If it was a high-scoring game, they would've said there was no defense."
Which was what many critics bemoaned. "No matter what we do as a league, they'll pounce on something.
"Yeah, I think it is kind of crazy. Because we're a smaller football league, people are going to jump on us no matter what. What is a shame, even the positive things that you think could happen [such as the league's BCS-second, 26-8 nonconference record behind only the SEC's 28-7], now all of a sudden everybody is going to criticize the Big East nonconference schedule. If you wait until the end of the year ... In particular, like our schedule, maybe it wasn't as easy as people think. It looks like [No. 23] Maryland is doing pretty good. [Conference USA leader] East Carolina is doing pretty good. Mississippi State, everybody said that wasn't a good win, but they went out and beat Alabama at Alabama Saturday.
"So I certainly think our league is underrated and other leagues are way overrated. I'm just saying in general. I'm not going to say any [conferences in particular]. But I think there's more than one conference that is overrated. I'll just wait until after the season and maybe tell you which ones then."
Polls aren't normally a subject that Rodriguez and his Mountaineers (7-1, 2-1) spend much time discussing, especially at a critical point where they are trying to rebound from a disappointing loss at Louisville in time to play a rising Cincinnati (5-4, 2-2) in an ESPN2 game at noon Saturday in Mountaineer Field. Yet here they were yesterday, discussing it.
"To see us drop that far is disturbing," senior center Dan Mozes said of the Mountaineers' one-game fall to No. 10 -- in The Associated Press, USA Today coaches and BCS rankings -- from No. 3.
"At the same time, it makes us more motivated to try harder."
It certainly spurred Rodriguez and his staff to stir, if not shake, the Mountaineers' depth chart.
As of yesterday, no fewer than five starting spots were declared open in practice this week.
Sophomore place-kicker Pat McAfee was listed as the first-team punter on the revised depth chart yesterday ahead of the regular, redshirt freshman Scott Kozlowski, whose wrong-way punt Thursday in the third quarter allowed a 40-yard Louisville touchdown return that gave the host Cardinals a 16-point bulge which proved insurmountable.
"The way Pat's been punting in practice has been impressive," the coach said. "And Scott didn't punt too well in the last game."
True freshman Boogie Allen was listed at one first-team cornerback, ahead of junior starter Antonio Lewis (sore shoulder). At the other corner, junior Larry Williams -- who started three of the first six games -- was placed ahead of Perry Traditional Academy's junior Vaughn Rivers, who had started the past six games there. Also, at strongside linebacker, sophomore Reed Williams was penciled above Carmichaels' junior Bobby Hathaway, who had started all seven games.
"There is some competition," Rodriguez said of practices. "Check with me at 11:59 [a.m.] Saturday. It's open at several positions."
NOTES -- Steve Slaton was discovered not only to have a bruised funny-bone nerve, but also a sprained left wrist. "Just trying to stabilize it, get it better," Slaton said. "The grip isn't all the way there, but it's getting there day by day." Rodriguez and Slaton both expect the star sophomore tailback to play Saturday. ... Slaton ranks second in NCAA rushing (151.8 yards per game) and quarterback Patrick White 25th (93.0) ... West Virginia's schedule ranks as the 12th-toughest in Division I-A this week with the opponents 49-33 overall (.597). The four remaining foes are 21-10 (.677). Cincinnati's schedule is the toughest, with opponents 53-30 (.635). ... ESPN set a Thursday record when the Louisville-West Virginia broadcast was seen in an estimated 4.91 million households (based on its 5.3 rating) that also made it the second-most watched college football game in the network's history. Its previous Thursday record belonged to the Florida State-Virginia game in 1995 (4.09 million homes); the network's top college football audience came Sept. 4 for the Florida State-Miami game (6.318 million homes).
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1724.