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ELLIOTT: WVU-Marshall - It is a Rivalry

September 3, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

The question seems to always arise when West Virginia and Marshall play: Is this a rivalry?

The answer is yes. It's not a traditional rivalry in that when the teams meet, you can always expect a close game, or when one team rips off a series of victories, the other eventually evens the score.

On the field, it's been one-sided, as the Mountaineers have won all 10 meetings.

But it's alive and well in the stands. When the overwhelming feeling of one fan base is that it just wants the other to shut up, it's a rivalry. And these two fan bases are close enough in proximity to have to hear a lot.

The silence will be deafening next week when Norfolk State comes calling.

On the field, it's not as big of a deal. The players say so. To them, it's just another game. That's because nearly all of them are from out of state and don't have a feel for the blood - bad, boiled, or otherwise - between the two schools.

Going beyond the stands, there appears to be some institutional digging going on as well.

An example: It's typical on signing day for the sports information directors to add what other programs made offers to the players they signed in their bios. While Marshall had a bigger class than WVU, nine players who signed with Marshall in February were said to have had offers from WVU, according to releases by the school. Whether it was a reluctance or indifference, or eh-hum, the truth, no Mountaineers signee was reported to have spurned an offer from Marshall.

Following that logic, West Virginia didn't get a single player that was choosing between the two schools. Marshall won each of those recruiting battles.

That's highly unlikely.

Perhaps it shows WVU's perceived superiority complex in leaving that information out, or Marshall's perceived inferiority complex for putting it in. Or it could be nothing, other than extremely interesting.

So what else makes it a rivalry?

How about when one head coach spent 23 years as an assistant coach covering a few stints at the other school? Particularly when the last stint ended less the two years ago. That has to mean something.

Marshall Coach Doc Holliday was talking the other day about how he'd never been in the visitor's locker room at Mountaineer Field, and that it will only be different until kickoff.

He also talked about how many friends he has in Morgantown and the respect he has for the university.

''But for that 3-hour period on Sunday,'' he said, ''it's all about doing what we can do to win that football game. That is the only thing that is on my mind.''

How about when the other coach in the game doesn't know Marshall from Norfolk State?

WVU's first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, an Iowa native who has spent much of his coaching career in the southwest, has had to answer questions all week about the Marshall rivalry. He doesn't really have the answers, drawing only on an experience he had coaching against the Herd while he was in Houston.

His take on this is it's just a game - the first game - and that's the only motivation his players need.

State law-makers feel it's an important series to keep going. The former governor set up the current series, which expires in 2012.

In short, the game means a little something to a lot of people, especially to the Marshall coaches, who apparently keep winning those recruiting wars.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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