MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – During his press conference on Tuesday, West Virginia football coach Neal Brown put to rest rumors that he was considering the South Carolina job opening – “I am not a candidate,” he said emphatically – and then spent the rest of his time talking about his Mountaineers and their opponent this Saturday, No. 12 Iowa State.
WVU’s game with the 7-2 Cyclones (3:30 p.m. on ESPN) will be West Virginia first in 21 days.
After defeating TCU 24-6 on Nov. 14, the Mountaineers had a planned open date in their schedule for Nov. 21. But one open Saturday turned into two when the Nov. 28 visit by Oklahoma to Morgantown had to be postponed until Dec. 12 because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the Sooners’ program.
“It was a crazy last week or so. Our guys were obviously disappointed that we didn’t get to play this past weekend,” said Brown, who was cozily tucked inside the Puskar Center while several inches of snow piled up outside. “I thought our players and staff handed it the best they could.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played, going back to TCU, which was arguably the best game we’ve played all year. We’re excited about our opportunity this week against Iowa State.”
The Nov. 21 open date held West Virginia rest and rehab after a lengthy stretch of five games in five weeks. Getting Nov. 28 off as well wasn’t as big an advantage, said WVU’s coach.
“If we were in a situation where we knew we were going to have three weeks between games, we would have handled the situation in a different manner,” Brown explained. “But we didn’t know we were going to have that. We were under the assumption we were going to play until last Wednesday afternoon.
“How we handled it was the best we could. We are going to be fresh; that’s the positive,” added the second-year head coach whose team is 5-3. “I hope our timing can stay sharp. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. We’ve done as much good-on-good work as we possibly can without being overly physical, since it’s as late as it is in the year. We will be fresh, and I think we’ll play fast. Hopefully our execution can match that.”
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So, how does a football coach spend is an extra free weekend?
“We did practice both Saturdays, but it was pretty quick, only about an hour each time,” noted Brown.
And other than that?
“The first Saturday, I didn’t do much of anything,” said the coach, who did admit – surprise, surprise – to watching some football games. “This past weekend, I was kind of restless and took a couple different walks. I made my kids get outside to get some fresh air.
“This is the first time in my career I can remember having to consecutive weeks off.”
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Brown and his staff have any eye toward the early National Letter of Intent signing period, which begins Dec. 16.
Because of NCAA restrictions brought about by the coronavirus, recruiting this year is unlike any other.
All in-person visits are prohibited until at least April 15, 2021, so the recruiting is being done virtually, through videoconferencing and phone calls.
Still, the recruiting continues, and West Virginia is looking to sign between 17 to 19 student-athletes during the early LOI period, according to Brown.
“Signing day is two weeks from tomorrow, so it comes upon you fast,” the coach said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re trying to put the pieces together.
“It’s always a race to the finish, and then at the same time we’re doing the leg work for the ‘22s. That process is sped up, even though they can’t take trips. They are getting antsy on whether they can get on campus before they make their decisions. We get that, so we’re trying to stay on top of that as well.
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Besides recruiting decisions by newcomers, the veteran players are also going to be faced with decisions of their own soon.
The NCAA agreed this past summer that the 2020 season would not count against the eligibility of any fall sports student-athletes. It eventually added winter sports student-athletes to that exemption list, to appease concerns brought about by the coronavirus.
That means none of the current student-athletes will use a season of eligibility this year, so a senior will still be a senior in 2021, a junior will still be a junior next year, and so on.
The class that will be impacted first by that additional year of eligibility is the current senior group. Under normal circumstances, the seniors would be facing the final college football games of their careers this month, but now they have the option of returning in 2021 for one more final season.
Brown said he has started to talk to his seniors about their options, though definite decisions haven’t necessarily been made yet.
“We used the (Nov. 21) bye week, because we were due to have Senior Day there during the Oklahoma game as it was schedule, but we talked during the bye week. I met one-on-one with all the seniors, and we had some preliminary discussions,” said Brown. “I told them, ‘If you know you are coming back, there is no use walking (during the Senior Day ceremony), but if you don’t know, then just walk, and if you make the decision you want to come back later, then we’ll make it work.
“We’ll have those (discussions) in detail at the end of the regular season,” added the coach. “When we finish up the Oklahoma game, before we get into bowl prep, those will be discussions we’ll have with those seniors, and we’ll kind of go from there.”
There are currently 19 seniors on the WVU football squad who could return next season. Of those 12 are starters – safety Alonzo Addae, safety Sean Mahone, linebacker Tony Fields, linebacker Dylan Tonkery, defensive lineman Darius Stills, defensive lineman Jeffery Pooler, offensive lineman Chase Behrndt, offensive lineman Michael Brown, wide receiver T.J. Simmons, placekicker Evan Staley, longsnapper Kyle Poland and punter Tyler Sumpter.