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Spring helping WVU get to know changed look of its opponents

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia will play its Gold-Blue intrasquad game Friday night and become the final Big East Conference team to conclude spring football drills.

Given the 24 days that will transpire between the start of spring practice and end - and everything that's happened everywhere else in between - the Mountaineers figure to have learned as much about their opponents as they have about themselves, right?

Perception, even in today's era of ever-available information, is not reality.

"Someone said to me, 'Did you see Alabama's spring game?'" WVU Coach Bill Stewart said. "I said, 'No. If I was going to watch one I'd watch Pitt's (on the NFL Network).' So they said, 'Did you watch Pitt's?' I said, 'No.'"

South Florida, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Connecticut played their spring games April 17. Rutgers and Cincinnati had theirs last Saturday. Ditto for Marshall and Maryland. UNLV's was April 17. Coastal Carolina's was April 10. LSU's was March 27.

WVU has seen nothing and will wait for film swaps to view its 2010 opponents.

Stewart and the Mountaineers have, in their defense, been a little preoccupied. There's the primary matter of the spring itself - grooming an offense with a quarterback who won't quarterback the offense in the fall, developing depth on the offensive line, gathering enough receivers to effectively spread the field, identifying a punter, realigning the starting linebackers and finding a third safety, to name a few issues.

And then over the past two weekends, with a wealth of the 2010 opponents playing spring games, the Mountaineers hosted rising senior recruits they'd like to have on campus for a more permanent basis next year.

"I chose to spend all that time with the parents and the youngsters who came in," Stewart said. "We just don't have a chance to spend much time following other stuff."

So, yes, WVU had its hands full, which is an interesting way to put things at the present ... because it's going to be that way in the future, too.

USF, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marshall have new coaches, though the Mountaineers are familiar with Bulls boss Skip Holtz from East Carolina and Defensive Coordinator Mark Snyder from Marshall, and are quite aware of the Herd's Doc Holliday, who left WVU last December. LSU, UNLV and Coastal Carolina are new opponents - and the Rebels have a new coach. WVU hasn't seen Maryland since 2007.

Even the familiar faces left out of that group aren't going to be exactly the same next season. Syracuse, Pitt, UConn and Rutgers could be a little to a lot different with altered personnel and perhaps philosophies, too.

Maybe then the spring would be a nice preview ... and maybe not.

"It's way early," Stewart said. "People like us who are experimenting now don't have everything in."

Still, there isn't much experimentation where new coaches are hurrying to install and get ahead. LSU has big aspirations and tried to settle a quarterback battle between Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Pitt, UConn and Rutgers took aim at the Big East title and began their marches.

The spring games didn't deliver much for Stewart and his staff to read in the realm of results.

Marshall's was tempered by the rainy weather. Pitt's offense, with the exception of a few nice runs by Dion Lewis, was overmatched by the defense. Neither LSU quarterback had a particularly promising performance. Mohamed Sanu, the do-it-all threat at Rutgers, didn't play because of a head injury.

UConn, though, flaunted a dangerous passing attack, which will complement the normally reliable running game. South Florida's B.J. Daniels was 23-for-31 for 381 yards and five touchdowns, which seemed to alleviate concerns following offseason shoulder surgery. Maryland boasted a running game it lacked during a 2-10 season last year. 

Then there's Cincinnati, where the spread seems to have survived. Zach Collaros started 11-for-11 and missed just two of his 20 pass attempts. Coach Butch Jones even showed a little flair for the past when - like what happened on his watch at WVU - a fan was allowed to call a play.

Receiver D.J. Woods (once a WVU recruit) threw a 60-yard pass to Vidal Hazelton. Hazelton is a senior transfer from USC who was one of the country's best high school recruits in 2006. He'll be eligible this season and could be the Big East's impact newcomer.

Stewart and his staff will begin reconnaissance soon, though, and some help has already arrived.

"I've got the LSU paper already," Stewart said. "Somebody sent me that. People send me all that stuff and I read it all. The LSU writer had a big writeup after their game."

When Stewart was traveling with his son, Blaine, for a baseball tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., he picked up a copy of the newspaper tracking nearby Coastal Carolina's spring.

Those articles, as well as stat sheets and other reviews from other teams, will be posted for the Mountaineers to see on their trips through the Puskar Center.

"I want the players to know who we're going to play," Stewart said. "If we play them, we're going to learn about them. Everything's on the Internet now. We'll get starting lineups and everything.

"I'd like to hear from different people and we'll check out who did what stat-wise and get a better idea."

It's the way things have to be now. Coastal Carolina Coach David Bennett invited Stewart to watch one spring practice when Stewart was in the neighborhood, but Stewart declined and reminded Bennett, "We can't do that any more."

"It used to be legal in the old days," Stewart said. "I flew to Manhattan, Kan., one time and said, 'Oh, my.' Drove all the way out there past these purple silos and barns. Kansas State. You talk about pride out there. I pulled in and watched their spring game.

"I was at Arizona State at the time and told them I was coming. We were reciprocal and let one of their guys watch our spring game because we opened against each other. Those days are gone, so you have to keep up with them however you can."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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