West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen squirmed in his chair. He has grown tired of people telling him all week how good his team is supposed to be.
Ever since last Saturday, when the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma, 41-27, in Norman, the state has gone bonkers. "Go Mountaineers" banners can be seen flying as far away as Uniontown, Pa. Gov. Jay Rockefeller came here by helicopter from Charleston on Tuesday to attend practice.
There's so much attention being paid to the Mountaineers' home opener Saturday against Maryland, in fact, that Nehlen wishes this game were being played on the road. A crowd as large as 60,000 is expected. Seating is sold out; standing room only tickets are still being sold. If everyone who has a ticket shows up, the university's home game attendance record of 54,280 (against Pittsburgh, in 1981) is in jeopardy.
"At least for the Oklahoma game, I was able to get out of here on Friday and I didn't have to hear any of this crap," Nehlen said today. "But there's no place to hide in Morgantown. People are sending me buttons with 'Mountaineer Fever' and all this other stuff. With everything going on, I don't know if I remember our offense."
There's not a whole lot to remember. Quarterback Jeff Hostetler, a transfer from Penn State, completed 17 of 37 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns. The Mountaineers made ultimate use of the big play against the Sooners, then ranked ninth. Seven plays, four of them touchdowns, gained 281 yards.
That one victory set off a week-long party around West Virginia, one that Nehlen is trying to stop.
"Everybody's still talking about Oklahoma, dammit," Nehlen said. "These guys go to class and the professors are all saying, 'Great game, you guys beat the hell out of Oklahoma.' Nobody's mentioned Maryland all week. Maryland is definitely capable of beating us without that much trouble.
"I asked the players today if they're dumb enough to believe all these good things people are saying. I don't know if they'll listen to me or not."
Because there have been so many distractions this week, Nehlen stopped all interviews with the players, today and Friday. "It's been a lot worse than wild," Nehlen said.
People close to the football program say Nehlen's keeping-things-in-perspective approach is largely responsible for West Virginia's rise from relative obscurity (four straight years below .500) to the brink of national prominence. Last year, Nehlen's second, West Virginia finished 9-3 and won the Peach Bowl. The Mountaineers are now ranked 17th by the Associated Press.
West Virginia defeated Maryland, 17-13, in College Park last year, in a game Nehlen now calls the turning point in the program. "That wasn't a bad victory for a West Virginia," Nehlen said. "My first West Virginia team would have found a way to lose that game."
"I don't think they should be that happy yet," Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer cautioned the Mountaineers today. "It's too early for them to get excited, especially since we aren't that good. We weren't a test for them."
Switzer is probably right. But nobody in Morgantown is listening. Except Don Nehlen.