July 18, 2006

West Virginia officially the Big East favorite



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NEWPORT, R.I. -- Dan Mozes wants to know one thing. When is Steve Slaton going to start picking up the dinner check for the offensive line?

"That's what I want to know," Mozes said Tuesday at Big East Media Day. "When is the quarterback and the running back going to pick up the check? Steve was a freshman last season. He didn't have any money, so he wasn't paying."

Mozes was kidding about dinner, but Slaton was no joke as a freshman running back in 2005. Slaton pounded his way to 1,128 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. He was named the Big East rookie of the year. He also had 12 catches for 95 yards and two scores.

People around the West Virginia program do not expect a sophomore letdown since Slaton has worked diligently this off-season. He even won the 2006 Mountaineer Award as the top performer in the winter workout program.

"To get that much production out of a true freshman is really, really rare," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We thought when we recruited him we stole one away. He's going to keep getting better and better. The guy knows he can be a better football player."

Mozes first saw Slaton's potential in preseason camp when the freshman caught a screen pass and sprinted down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown. Before that, Slaton was just another young guy. Soon, he would be the leader in West Virginia's backfield.

"I didn't even know who Steve Slaton was," Mozes said. "After that screen pass, I said that guy is really fast. I saw the way Steve worked all summer and the toughness he has. He acts like a senior. Sometimes you can sense youth in a player. You can't see that with him."

Expectations are high for the Mountaineers, who defeated Georgia in the Nokia Sugar Bowl last season and are the preseason favorite by most to capture the Big East title. Slaton is now an established asset. Quarterback Pat White rushed for 952 yards and seven TDs last season and passed for eight touchdowns. He's ready to lead the offense.

Preseason Big East Media Poll
Predicted order of finish in the Big East as voted on by the media at conference media days (first place votes in parentheses):
1. West Virginia (18) 186 points
2. Louisville (6) 172 points
3. Pittsburgh 127 points
4. Rutgers 125 points
5. South Florida 97 points
6. UConn 80 points
7. Cincinnati 41 points
8. Syracuse 36 points
Receivers Brandon Myles, who had a team-high 34 catches and added three TDs, returns as does Darius Reynaud, who caught 30 passes and scored five times. Defensively, West Virginia should be strong upfront. There are some replacements to be made in the secondary. Jahmile Addae, who had 64 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and Mike Lorello, who led the team with 82 tackles last season, are gone. Both were first team All-Big East selections.

There is good reason why West Virginia is mentioned as one of the nation's elite teams. But Rodriguez wants to temper the preseason hype. So does Mozes, who recalls a 2004 squad that was mentioned among the best in the country and then finished 8-4 with a bitter 41-7 loss to Maryland in the Gator Bowl. Mozes wants to make sure that does not happen again this season.

"We like the expectations people have for us," Mozes said. "But we're trying to take the underdog role. Everybody is shooting for us, but we're shooting for everybody else. As a senior and as a leader, we don't have that problem. We've gone through that season where we had high expectations and we faltered."

More from Big East Media Days:
Healthy Brohm one of many weapons for Louisville
As Palko goes, so go the Panthers
Preseason poll least of Big East coaches' worries
Big East media day photo gallery




 

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