Two new coaching staffs will go head to head Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium when West Virginia hosts James Madison, the No. 2 team in the FCS.
The new era of WVU football under head coach Neal Brown has been well-documented, but another new era of sorts has begun for the Dukes under the leadership of Curt Cignetti, a coach with a deep connection to Morgantown.
Cignetti graduated from Morgantown High School before playing football at WVU. His father, Frank Sr., coached the Mountaineers in the late 1970s before legendary coach Don Nehlen took over.
As these two new head coaches continue their crash course toward a season-opening clash in Morgantown, Brown thinks both staffs will encounter some unique challenges leading up to gameday.
That’s why Brown said he’s focusing on coaching the Mountaineers to their strengths.
“The challenges are significant any first game, because even if you’re playing somebody that’s been there for a while, everybody changes during the offseason. You study and learn,” Brown said. “But they’re going through the same thing, too, so what happens in these opening games is, you go back to your strengths. Whatever you feel like your players do well, that’s what you really try to emphasize early on.”
West Virginia is 19-0 all-time against FCS opponents, but James Madison is in a different class than most of those foes.
As Brown stated numerous times during his weekly press conference Tuesday, the Dukes return 20 of their 22 starters from a season ago, including an experienced quarterback in Pitt transfer Ben DiNucci. Brown added that NFL scouts have indicated that JMU currently has more NFL prospects in its senior class than WVU.
But Brown thinks this is a game where having a young roster could actually benefit WVU, as many of those young players will stay locked in during the season opener — unlike experienced players who could become complacent.
“I don’t think we have to worry one bit about overlooking anybody or not respecting their game, because all they gotta do is turn on the film,” Brown said.