MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Even Thanksgiving is going to be different for the Mountaineer football team this year.
Typically the players on Neal Brown’s squad spend the night before Thanksgiving at the home of their position coaches and then on Thanksgiving Day, the players, coaches, staff and all their families gather at the Puskar Center for a holiday feast.
COVID-19 has changed some – though not all – of that.
“This year will be a little bit different,” explained Brown. “Obviously we can’t go into peoples’ homes and things like that. We do have a good plan, though. They eat well all the time, and they’ll eat well this week.
“We’ve been doing all our team meals in the (indoor practice facility), and we’ll use that again Thursday. We have eight-foot tables with two guys at each table and they face opposite ways. We’ll have a traditional Thanksgiving meal for the guys on Thursday after practice.”
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Two days after their Thanksgiving meal, West Virginia will line up against No. 14 Oklahoma (6-2). That showdown from Mountaineer Field will kickoff at 7 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.
“This is a tremendous opportunity and a challenge for us this week,” said Brown, whose club is 5-3 with two regular season games remaining. “Oklahoma has been the standard in our league, and we’re looking forward to a Saturday night game at Mountaineer Field.
“This will be the first (night game) I’ve coached in here, and we haven’t played one – period – in two years (Nov. 23, 2018 vs. Oklahoma),” added WVU’s second-year head coach. “Our guys are excited about that, and hopefully our fans – however many we can get in here – will show up and be loud.”
Having won five straight Big 12 titles, the Sooners (currently 5-2 in conference play) are second in the league at the moment, a game behind Iowa State (6-1 in the Big 12 and 6-2 overall).
ISU and OU each hold their own destinies in their hands when it comes to finishing in the top two positions in the league standings, and thus earning the opportunity to play in the Big 12 Championship game, which will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 19.
West Virginia, which is 4-3 in Big 12 play, mathematically is still alive for a spot in the league’s championship game, but it will not only need to defeat both Oklahoma and Iowa State in its final two regular season contests but then it also will need help in both Oklahoma State (5-2/4-2) and Texas (5-2/4-2) sustaining multiple losses.
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WVU does have an advantage of a week’s rest coming into its Nov. 28 meeting with Oklahoma, where as the Sooners were involved in a 41-13 victory over rival Oklahoma State this past Saturday.
“We’re definitely more rested and healthier than we were going into that TCU game,” recalled Brown of West Virginia’s last contest, a 34-6 win over the Horned Frogs on Nov. 14. “We were a tired group, though we played hard.
“Last week was more about rest and recover. We got some work done on Oklahoma but not a ton. We practiced for about an hour on Wednesday and Thursday and Saturday morning. We got in some lifts and conditioning, but more than anything, you clear your mind mentally. We have not only Oklahoma but then we follow up with Iowa State and finals and those kinds of things coming up.
“I think we’re in a good mental framework,” concluded Brown. “I think the guys feel better.”
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The early National Letter of Intent signing period is quickly approaching for college football, as it runs from Dec. 16-18.
A majority for FBS prospects signs during the early period, though they can also wait and utilize the traditional period, which runs from Feb. 3 to April 1.
West Virginia currently has 16 prospects who have already verbally committed, and it expects to add another five or six to this class during the upcoming LOI periods.
Of those signees, the Mountaineers expect to many of them enroll at WVU for the start of the spring semester, which begins on Jan. 19.
Last January West Virginia had five midyear scholarship enrollees (high schoolers Jairo Faverus, Garrett Greene and Reese Smith, plus junior college transfers Jackie Matthews and Quay Mays). It had three in 2019 (high schooler K.J. Martin and jucos Dreshun Miller and Taijh Alston). Brown expects to have a higher number this January.
“We will have more midyear guys than we’ve had the last two years,” explained WVU’s head coach. “I don’t know about (classes prior to 2019), but we’ll have double digits in terms of midyear guys this time around.”