The Smoking Musket Pick Em Gauntlet is an online college pick em game where we will try to pick the winners of the weekly Big 12 contests plus Yahoo! editors' selected games (usually the games involving the top 25 teams). There are usually 20-30 games to pick each week and each correct pick is worth one point. The winner (excluding Musket staff) will be the person at the end of the regular season who has the most correct picks/points. Points are cumulative, so don't worry if you happen to miss a week or two. We will award the winner a WVU Nike T-shirt at the conclusion of the game in December. The rules state December 13 as the conclusion, but Yahoo isn't clear when the game will end. I'll post updates and amend the rules for this as needed.
Official Rules (PDF document link)
Our game, as in the past, will be hosted by Yahoo! Fantasy. GAME LINK
Group Name: The Smoking Musket
Group ID: 10575
Group password: westbygod
We have 25 games to pick this week, starting with games on Friday night and an early (8:30am ET) Saturday game. Deadline for each pick is 5 minutes before kickoff.
Also, as a way to change things up a bit this year, we will also be featuring staff predictions for the weekly WVU game (or game of interest on the off-weeks). Without further adieu (and in no particular order this week):
Alabama 42 WVU 24
The Mountaineers--who always relish being the underdog--will come out more excited and motivated than Bama. Clint Trickett will look calm and composed and in more control of the offense. The stable of running backs in the WVU backfield could provide some early fits to the Alabama defense. The Eers will jump out to an early lead, possibly by a couple touchdowns, but the talent on the other side of the ball and Nick Saban's halftime adjustments will prove to be too much for the Mountaineers to handle. A big special teams play here, a few lengthy Alabama scoring drives there in the second half will turn the tide in Alabama's favor (pardon the pun).
In terms of NFL prospects for the Mountaineers, I'm very interested to see if Shaquille Riddick can live up to the Bruce Irvin comparisons, and can Quinton Spain be the anchor on the offensive line?
Alabama 37 West Virginia 20
When I think of what I hope to see in this game, my mind keeps going back to the 2002 game against the #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes. Like today, we saw an upstart Mountaineer team attempting to prove that it could once again compete with the nation's elite after some time in the wilderness. Despite being a loss, that 2002 game left the 'eer faithful with reason for hope. WVU battled to within 23-24 of the Canes in the 3rd quarter before eventually falling 23-40 to a team that would eventually come one pass-interference penalty from their second consecutive national title.
I hope to see a similar effort from this squad and expect a similar final score. I see WVU staying scrappy and hanging around with the Tide well into the 3rd quarter before superior talent eventually wears them down. The Tide tack on a couple quick late scores and, while a cursory glance at the final margin might suggest Alabama was dominant, anyone who watches the game will come away feeling that this is a WVU team ready to take the next step and far removed from the 4-8 debacle of a year ago.
The key will be weathering the early Crimson Tsunami. A look back at Saban's season-openers during his time in Tuscaloosa reveals a team that hits you first and hits you hard. Never once has his team failed to score first and only once have they trailed - by a point to Virginia Tech at the half of their 2009 game (The Tide scored less than 3 minutes into the 2nd half to take the lead for good). Over 7 season openers they average over 2 TDs in the first quarter (15.1 pts), have scored at least 1 TD in all but 1 of those opening quarters and at least a pair of TDS in all but 2.
If WVU can withstand the storm and get out of the quarter with hope, I like their odds of making it competitive.
Alabama 38 WVU 24
WVU stops Alabama on their opening possession and follows the stop by scoring the games first points. WVU has a solid first half and goes into halftime trailing by only a field goal. They get the opening kickoff of the 2nd half and again score first to go up on the Tide spreading pandemonium across Mountaineer Nation. Unfortunately, depth starts to catch up and Alabama mounts a couple punishing time consuming drives to go up by 14 late in the fourth quarter. WVU doesn't have the ability or time to come back and fall by the final score of 38-24. The game is a disappointment for the good guys, but sets the stage for a solid season and appearance in a decent bowl game.
Alabama 35, WVU 20
The last time West Virginia faced an opponent for the first time in program history, and that team also polled in the top five, the fourth-ranked and eventual national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers won in convincing fashion over the Mountaineers, 31-0, in the Kickoff Classic in 1994 at Giants Stadium.
Unlike that season opener 20 years ago, West Virginia will perform much better with an improving team coming off their 4-8 campaign a year ago, but Alabama's depth and talent will prove to be too much for Clint Trickett and company Saturday in Atlanta.
First team preseason all-SEC receiver Amari Cooper will likely be a key in doing the most damage for Alabama against West Virginia, which ranked 106th nationally in passing yards allowed last season.
Alabama 38 West Virginia 17
WVU covers the spread, but can't keep up with the Tide. A two QB system keeps Alabama's offense out of sync early on and allows WVU to stay in the game until halftime. Over time, Bama's powerful offensive line and destructive running game pave the way for the Tide to run away with it late.
Alabama 27 WVU 13
Two early interceptions by the WVU defense and the general ineptitude of the Bama offense forces Nick Saban to move Lane Kiffin to an exercise bike facing away from the field. This is the turning point of the game that Bama eventually goes on to win 27-13. Kiffin is fired before the team leaves for Tuscaloosa, proving that he was just hired as a scapegoat in case anything went wrong.
WVU beats the spread, but doesn't beat the Tide.
Bama's d-line controls the line of scrimmage for most of the game. Trickett never has time to get comfortable -- too much pressure applied. Accuracy issues continue to plague his play. He throws two TDs, but unfortunately, one is a pick six on a bubble screen.
Bama also returns a punt for another touchdown.
On the bright side, WVU's defense plays well, but eventually wears down and gives up a late touchdown to make the final score somewhat misleading.
This game gives Mountaineer fans hope for a successful season.
WVU 38 Bama 24
After Alabama takes the ball past midfield early in the game, Karl Joseph comes up with a massive hit to dislodge the ball from the running back. A scramble ensues and WVU LB Nick Kwiatkoski scoops up the fumble and returns it for a touchdown. Alabama seems stunned for most of the remaining first half, allowing WVU to rack up over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns before halftime. After the initial shock of being blown out in the Georgia Dome, Alabama comes out with a chip on its shoulder in the second half and scores two unanswered touchdowns. Both teams trade punches for the remainder of the game, and the when the dust settles, the Mountaineers sing Country Roads for their first win of the season 38-24 over the Crimson Tide.
Alabama 41, WVU 17
The downfall of Alabama is highly overblown. The Crimson Tide still have T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, oh yeah.. the best head coach in the country, Nick Saban. On the flip side, I don't trust WVU and Dana Holgorsen to turn things around that quickly, and won't buy into the hype until they prove it to me. The Mountaineers cover the spread, but lose the game in Atlanta.
Alabama 34, WVU 14
Crazier things have happened in college football than WVU beating Alabama on Saturday. It definitely could happen, but almost everything would have to go the Mountaineers way to shock the nation. I see the good guys keeping it close for a half, but the depth and overall talent of the Tide overwhelms the Mountaineers as Bama pulls away late.
Alabama 34, WVU 31
Priddy astutely observed above that this game feels like the 2002 tilt with Miami that was nearly ours but for Kellen Winslow II's great hands. However, we were off to a reeling start at that point in that season (was that really 12 years ago?), and that game felt like the first time that Rodriguez's stuff worked, and of course everything got better from there. This game reminds me more of the opener in Nebraska in 1994. We were playing a classic college football foe, on the heels of an undefeated regular season, and we didn't have a whole lot of idea about what we. In that far off game (was that really two decades ago?), we found out that we had fallen off quite a bit. I like to look at this team this way: we could have won more games than we did last year. Let's say that the number, realistically, is two. A bounce here or there and Texas and Iowa State, maybe Oklahoma, could have been different. Everyone is a year older, hopefully a year better, and I want to believe the team had some character-forging moments last season.
So, this one will be hard-fought, and as close we can make it. We will lose, because Alabama probably has better talent at most positions than we do, and unless they make five or six critical errors, superior Jimmys and Joes usually triumph over X's and O's, and Saban is pretty good at those too.
I say we lead at some point in the game, only to see the Tide wear us down late. We miss a FG on our last possession that might have gotten us to overtime, but we emerge proud of the effort, and it provides the key to a resurgent season. Still, this is why you lace 'em up and play....anything is possible! Let's Go!
Alabama 22 West Virginia 20
This low scoring affair will provide the national audience proof that both teams' offenses will be rusty and lacking composure. Alabama coming off two large losses to end the 2013 season, will be too aggressive in the first half looking to never give the Mountaineers a chance. However, their aggressive nature will allow the WVU defense to shine and surpass the nation by stopping the attempted big plays coming from the Tide. In the 2nd half the Tide will try to keep the ball on the ground. The West Virginia offense will trying to wear down the Alabama defense on the ground with minimal success. However, a few on the fly big plays thought up by Holgorsen will keep the Mountaineers competitive and thus, have the Mountaineers on peoples radar this season.
West Virginia 24 Alabama 23
WVU and Alabama take the national stage in what looks to be a one-sided affair, but there is a little Mountaineer magic left in the field from the last upset, and WVU shocks the nation with it's performance. The Tide scores quickly and early, but WVU matches each score. The Tide's talented newcomers wear down during the heavy hitting affair, and Alabama's 12 returning starters don't quite have the experience on defense or the commanding leader under center to withstand the heated exchanges with the Mountaineers throughout the first three quarters, leading to WVU grabbing a 14 point lead. Saban calms his crew and orchestrates a comeback following a safety, getting the game to 24-23. An offensive turnover leads to the Tide driving hard down the field with under two minutes left, looking to seal the deal and completely silence the quieting Mountaineer fan-base. However, in his always shocking fashion, Karl Joseph drills T.J. Yeldon in the ribs to force a fumble on a 2 and Goal run, which Dravon Henry recovers in the end-zone to win game.
Alabama 34 WVU 27
I don't trust the Alabama offense to be high scoring, so I'm figuring for perhaps a defensive touchdown. I'm also figuring on WVU's offense to be "back to normal," ie, able to move the ball and score like we did in 2012. But going against this Bama defense proves to be a bit too much. Keeping the game within a touchdown, I feel is possible, unless we really have the turnover bug.