It was a crazy year for WVU IMG's Jeff Culhane.
He hit the ground running in Morgantown the Monday of a game week and never looked back, absorbing 120 years of football history while learning the ins and outs of one of the nation's unique fan bases. Oh, and he had to host weekly pre and post game football shows.
2013 was a self-described "whirlwind" for Jeff Culhane and he's clearly looking forward to a 2014 that he can enter at his own speed.
He was kind enough to talk with me over the phone and we chatted about the upcoming WVU season and what Culhane and his cohorts at WVU IMG have in store for fans in the upcoming season.
Smoking Musket: So last time we talked it wasn't even a year ago, I mean we were closer to the season than we are now when you arrived in Morgantown to take on your new duties as the host of WVU IMG's football pre and post game coverage.
Jeff Culhane: Yeah it was a whirlwind. I didn't want to leave my crew back in Nebraska hanging so I stayed there for the transition and got here on like August 26th - the Monday before the opening game against William & Mary. It was crazy and I was being pulled in about a thousand different directions but my excitement level was sky high.
SM: So with an entire season under your belt how do you feel differently going into this season than last?
JC: Boy, completely different. I certainly feel better about things with more than 5 days to prepare, haha. It's completely different. I know the team, I know the coaches and I can better illustrate to listeners what's going on. I can talk so much more in depth about the team and coaches. I leaned a lot on my great co-hosts Jed Drenning and Dale Wolfley and Coach Wallace last year to help me in the transition and to get up to speed - those guys were great. I'm so much more comfortable now than I was.
SM: Just like Clint Trickett, right?
SM: So you've had a chance to watch practice and be around the team. What stands out to you when you see them this year?
JC: This team has such a sense of urgency. They're fully aware of what's going on right now. They had a lot of close games last year where they couldn't figure how to pull them out. Now they want to be able to finish those games - they know how important that is. There's just a different sense about them.
And they just look better. I know it sounds simplistic and stupid but it's true. They just all look better. Trickett is night and day. He has an understanding that he did not have in any way last season. Coach Holgorsen puts a lot of pressure on his quarterbacks and now I think Clint can finally fill that role.
SM: So with all that said what's your outlook for West Virginia on the season?
JC: When I think about it I've been splitting the season into thirds. This team needs to go 2-2, 2-2 and 2-2. If this team finishes 6-6 with this schedule it would be a real accomplishment. I know fans don't want to hear that and this fan base wants to sees success and expects more wins but with this schedule 6-6 is a really good year.
If this team gets to a bowl game it's a very strong year. The Maryland game is so big - like we talked about last year that game is always a huge indicator for if WVU has a good season or not. And you can't sleep on Towson. Bottom line is this team has to beat teams they're not expected to beat. And they really need to win one of those on the road - which they absolutely can in Stillwater or Lubbock. Oklahoma State is taking a step back after coming a quarter away from winning a conference title last year and Texas Tech will be going through growing pains with the new quarterback. But 6-6 is a big challenge.
They've got the depth to do it, though. You see a ton of depth - especially on the defensive side. I've never seen a defensive unit as devastated by injury was what this team was last year. Darrien Howard had no business getting on the field, but they were that banged up.
SM: I agree completely. And to your earlier point about finishing games, the last two seasons the defense has collapsed down the stretch largely because of injuries. Having depth can keep that from happening and give them a chance to win a lot of these winnable games at the back end of the schedule.
JC: Yeah.. And they know it. "Finish" is a big mantra for this group during practice. You hear that a lot, over and over. These players and coaches have a very high level of self-awareness of what they need to do. But they had some bad breaks last year and I think those things have a way of balancing out. Nothing went right last year - you had no quarterback, you had bad luck, everything went wrong. But now it's a new year. You have a quarterback and maybe those other things fall their way.
SM: I've written a lot about some of that rotten luck. They lost OT games to Texas and Iowa State when both those opponents fumbled in overtime. Recover either of those and you win those games. Win the Texas game and it's a completely different season.
JC: Absolutely. Fact is you're going to need to have some breaks go your way to have a good season. And when this team plays at home they have a chance to beat anybody - they need to cash in on that.
SM: Back to the depth, where else do you see evidence of it on this squad?
JC: Dontae Thomas Williams is a great-looking young player. No doubt he would have played last year - he could have really pushed Dreamius. The fact that he could possibly redshirt is a prime example of a team that's much deeper than it has been.
SM: So what are some things you're doing that folks will notice as different or additions this season?
JC: As you know the podcast is something we started recently. We developed it over the last month or so with help from John Antonik and the rest of the crew to become a place where we can bring analysis and guest interviews in the middle of the week. And it's not just for football season - we'll take it through the entire school year to showcase all sports. There's also an element of listener participation where we'll take questions through Twitter.
SM: I've heard the first couple episodes and have really enjoyed it.
JC: Thanks, we appreciate it.
SM: What can we expect on the pre and post game shows? Any big changes?
JC: A lot of what you see will be like what we had a year ago. My partners did such a great job with everything given how quickly it came together. You know Jed and the great knowledge of the game he brings. Then Wolfley brings that player mentality and Coach Wallace brings his mentality as a coach from one of the alltime great WVU teams ('88 team). Dale, through his role with the varsity club gives us great access to former players. Last year you remember we had Dan Mozes, Don Barclay, Aaron Beasley, a lot of great Mountaineers.You'll definitely see more of that.
We were able to put something we felt really good about in place last year and we're going to continue to build on that with 1 on 1 interviews, continuing to bring that work and analysis that we know Mountaineer fans expect. Now we've got some better chemistry and we'll just keep building on what we started last year.
SM: So here's the last big question - what to you constitutes a "win" for this team down in Atlanta against the Alabama Crimson Tide?
JC: You've got to go in there and compete. Every single person in the country is expecting a blowout, so it would be a HUGE stepping stone for this team and for this program to compete for 4 quarters. And honestly I just don't think Bama is going to blow them out by 28 or whatever the Vegas line is. I mean Bama is stacked but this is the season opener - anything can happen. Crazy things happen in season openers, you never know. I mean if you get an early score or a turnover or something unexpected happens who knows.
But they've got to compete. If they compete they can catch the eye of the country. To me that would be a big win.
SM: Anything else you want to leave folks with?
JC: Just be sure to let folks know that the podcast will be available every Thursday. They can tweet me questions - my handle is @jeffculhane. Or they can send them to @WVUIMGSports. Another way is to use the hashtag #WVUInsider.
Finally tell all your readers we're going to have something in place here very soon that will make Mountaineer fans very happy with what we're doing on the network. They're going to be very, very excited. That's all I can tell you for now, but it's going to be very cool.
SM: Awesome, can't wait to see what it is. Thanks for the time Jeff, always good talking with you.
JC: Thanks to you and the Musket, can't wait for the season!