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Neal Brown Won’t Allow ‘Tough Opener’ in Backyard Brawl, Schedule to be Excuse



WVU Football HC Neal Brown at practice

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown didn’t beat around the bush when discussing the Backyard Brawl during his press conference on Monday.

The fourth-year leader of the Mountaineers offered positive remarks toward Pittsburgh’s coaching staff and nearly every starter for the Panthers, while commenting on Thursday night’s contest at Acrisure Stadium.

“They’re the 11-3 returning ACC champions,” Brown said of the Panthers. “Coach (Pat) Narduzzi has done a great job building that program. … I have a lot of respect for that program and what they’ve done. It’s a tough opener, and we need to be ready.

“We will be ready.”

The match-up between the Mountaineers and the No. 17 ranked Panthers reignites a rivalry that enters its 105th edition, despite having been stale since 2011.

Even though these two teams haven’t met in 11 years, the hype surrounding this game has been at such a large scale that Brown feels that he will not need to motivate his squad come Thursday. The motivation is already there.

“They’ll be ready to go,” Brown said. “The ones where you put some thought into speeches and talks are where you’re worried about the emotional level going in. With this opener, it’s high energy, and the rivalry makes it even more emotional.”

But, looking forward, the Mountaineers will have to contend with a schedule full of quality opponents along with Pittsburgh that stretch out past the opening contest.

West Virginia is 2-1 under Brown in season openers. The Mountaineers earned two first-game victories over FCS schools in 2019 and 2020, defeating James Madison 20-13 and Eastern Kentucky 56-10, respectively, before falling to Maryland 30-24 to begin last year’s schedule.

The Mountaineers’ match-up with Maryland was the first of 11 Power 5 teams (schools that are a member of either the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 or SEC conferences) they faced in the 2021 season. West Virginia was one of just four FBS schools that faced that many Power 5 teams on its schedule.

This trend didn’t stop there for West Virginia. Beginning last season, the Mountaineers will have 11 Power 5 teams on their schedule every year through 2024, including their opener.

West Virginia will begin the 2023 season traveling to State College, Pa., to take on Penn State before hosting the Nittany Lions to start their 2024 campaign. The 2023 opener marks West Virginia as the only school in the FBS to begin their season facing a Power 5 opponent for three consecutive years.

Brown said the opponent, scale, or any factor of his team’s first game will not change his staff’s strategy for preparation. This will include the final depth chart, which Brown had faced questions due to not naming a starting quarterback until Monday afternoon.

“We try to make it on kind of the same timescale, really,” Brown said. “We try to get through two scrimmages and two weeks (of practice). I think that’s a pretty fair determination. So, not any different than any opener we’ve had.”

West Virginia and Pittsburgh are set for a 7:05 p.m. kickoff on Thursday night. The game will be televised on ESPN, and a special College Gameday broadcast will run before the game beginning at 6 p.m.

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