WVU Football 2017 Schedule Analysis
By Kevin Kinder
When examining an athletic schedule, there’s more to it than just the relative strengths of each opponent. Positioning of each foe is an important factor, as are off weeks or stretches where a team can catch its breath. We looked at each of those factors in this examination of West Virginia’s 2017 football schedule.
Judging the strength of each foe is still something of a guesstimate, as a month’s worth of full practices (and potential injury or eligibility subtractions) remain for everyone. Still, there’s a decent idea of whether a team will be better than it was a year ago, and that’s a reasonable starting point for the evaluation. Add in the calendar position of each game, and those potential rest breaks, and a couple of conclusions about the Mountaineer slate become apparent. Before we get to those, though, we’ll go through each game and examine the individual factors at play.
vs. Virginia Tech Opener Days Until Next Game: 6
Better or Worse: The Hokies figure to be a bit worse offensively than they were a year ago, but the defense will be a bear, especially in the front seven. Overall, though, it might be tough for them to match last year’s achievements.
Schedule Spot: While this game will be great for build-up and anticipation for fans of both teams, it will be a major downer for the loser. A defeat will sap much of that early season fan excitement, and while it won’t necessarily kill the season, it’s an important game for both. For the Mountaineers, it could be the game that decides the difference between a respectable 8-4 mark and a really good nine wins.
East Carolina Days Since Last Game: 6 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: The Pirates will be improved in 2017, but they’ll need to be a lot better to make people forget last year’s three-win season. The defense, though, might be the polar opposite of Tech’s as it tries to recover from a terrible 2016 showing where it couldn’t stop anyone and produced just eight takeaways.
Schedule Spot: This one is pretty well situated, although there is the negative of a lost day of preparation given the Sunday night opener against Virginia Tech. That might raise thoughts of Admiral Akbar (“It’s a trap!”) in the minds of some. Still, it’s the home opener, and that’s always good for a bounce of emotion.
Delaware State Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: There’s not much way the Hornets could be worse, and it doesn’t really matter. This game is a dog, and WVU should roll. If the Mountaineers don’t name the score, that could be a trouble indicator.
Schedule Spot: Ugh. Can we flip this game and the Tech contest? Or, failing that, move it somewhere in November and move the Kansas game here? While its location doesn’t hurt WVU, it sure doesn’t help it either.
At Kansas Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 14
Better or Worse: The Jayhawks will probably be about the same, with just the smallest amount of wiggle room in each direction. They’ll pick off one Big 12 team again this year. If it’s WVU, that could be a season-wrecker.
Schedule Spot: WVU gets its easiest Big 12 opener in its five years in the league with this contest, so that’s good. The Mountaineers will have every chance to be 4-0 after this contest if they got by the opener.
At TCU Days Since Last Game: 14 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: It’s all about the quarterback for TCU, and whether or not incumbent Kenny Hill is more consistent than a year ago. If he is, a maturing defense will have the Horned Frogs contending for a top three league finish. If not, it could be another spot in the bottom half.
Schedule Spot: WVU gets a week off between its only consecutive road games, so it’s tough to complain about that. The rest period comes too early to be of great help in recovering from the season-long bumps and bruises, but it will assist in planning for an attack against the Frogs’ defense, which will again be stout.
Texas Tech Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: It’s hard to imagine Tech’s defense being much worse, but a major rebuild is underway. Add in the loss of quarterback Patrick Mahomes (although proven backup Nik Shimonek returns), and again, it’s difficult to forecast a great deal of improvement in Lubbock.
Schedule Spot: This is a great spot for this game. It shouldn’t be viewed as a gimme, but a home game like this between TCU and Baylor is about as good as it gets in the Big 12.
At Baylor Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: Two questions hang over Baylor. Does the horrendous scandal still weigh on the football program in terms of on-field performance? Can new head coach Matt Rhule either implement his conservative style, or adapt to Baylor’s previous wide open system? As much as talent, the answers to these questions will determine the Bears’s success. Making a leap back to league prominence just isn’t in the cards for this year.
Schedule Spot: The Bears provide a nice middle step between Tech and next week’s challenge against Oklahoma State. Baylor isn’t an especially difficult place to play, as crowd support was all based on the Bears’ success, not on any historic rabid football fandom. It’s a step up in difficulty, but still not a bad one for WVU.
Oklahoma State Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: The Pokes were really good last year. This year, they’ll be better. With arguably the best WR in the country, a very good QB and solid players across the field, OSU will challenge for the Big 12 title.
Schedule Spot: At least WVU gets this game at home. It did have the previous two weeks to get ramped up, and hopes to be returning to Morgantown with a nice league start in its pocket, but this game is very difficult no matter where it would have fallen.
Iowa State Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: Judging this doesn’t just come down to wins and losses, although a jump to bowl contention would be nice for the program and fans. ISU has a lot of offensive skill talent, but the test will come defensively and on special teams. An incremental improvement seems likely, but whether that is enough to for a mid-level Big 12 finish is questionable.
Schedule Spot: Again, a nice slot for WVU. The Mountaineers can’t sleepwalk through this game, because ISU is trying to build a K-State like reputation for effort and mistake-minimizing play, but as the back end of a two-game homestand, this one has no negatives.
At Kansas State Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: The Wildcats will be better, and will ride a corps of running backs and what has to be better health from the QB position to an upper-division finish. If they parlay that with their usual mistake-avoidance, they could be a factor in the league race, and are a trendy pick by a few to challenge for the championship. That’s a reach, but six or seven league wins is not.
Schedule Spot: Iowa State is in some ways a good prep for the K-State, but one that’s still a long way removed in terms of talent. Playing in Manhattan is tough, as it has some of the best fan support in the league, but at least WVU didn’t have a top tier team the week before. Is this the place where the lack of a second off week starts to hurt?
Texas Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: Texas gets more hype for less performance than any other school in the nation. Avoiding that truism, though, to focus on the Horns’ prospects for 2017, two things collide. On the plus side, the enthusiasm for a program change and a new attitude. On the minus, yet another year of change, new systems, and new relationships to build. UT might head their program in a better direction this year, but that might not mean a huge difference in the won-loss record.
Schedule Spot: In the heyday of Oklahoma and Texas dominating the southwest, this would be the middle of a tougher than tough three game stretch. But while the Longhorns won’t be an easy out by any stretch, this is a winnable game for WVU. As the home finale, it could also be a big determinant in West Virginia’s final positioning in the Big 12 Conference. By no means is it easy, but having a big name in this position should ensure a great crowd and big enthusiasm.
At Oklahoma Days Since Last Game: 7 Days Until Next Game: 7
Better or Worse: There might not be a ton of room for improvement, but even if OU isn’t quite as good as it was a year ago, it will still be a load — and still could be the best in the conference. Any running back should be serviceable behind the best offensive line in the league, and Baker Mayfield will again be the top, although perhaps not by as big of a margin as some think, QB in the conference. If the defense can show some marginal gains, this will again be a Top Ten team nationally — and a contender for the CFP.
Schedule Spot: WVU certainly won’t catch OU napping, especially if the Sooners, as expected, will be playing to lock up a spot in the league title game. They could, if they are unbeaten in the league to date, already have done that by this game, but you still can’t expect them to lay down, or rest starters, or make any other pro-like moves. This is a difficult finish, and an incredibly tough position, for the Mountaineers in their final game of the 2017 season.
- The balance of West Virginia’s schedule is about as good as it could be. Having Delaware State as the opener instead of Virginia Tech would be more optimal, and there’s the tough stretch at the end in November, but it’s not like that is out of whack with any other Big 12 school. The Mountaineers get the chance to build throughout the season, and if they aren’t beaten up or hampered by injuries by the time the meat of the Big 12 schedule arrives, they have the chance to put together another great year.
- The importance of the opener is magnified. Yes, we know that goes against the “one game at a time” and “it’s just one game” mantras, and there is wisdom in those thoughts. Opposite that, though, is the natural excitement around the opener, and this against a regional rival. It’s a big springboard, and a win allows the Mountaineers a great shot at a 4-0 record entering the off week.
- Maybe it’s just preseason optimism, but more Big 12 teams are predicted to be on the rise than dropping this year. Some of that is overstated, but Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and TCU are all solid bets to be better, and the hype over Texas could possibly come to fruition. Who’s going to be worse? Texas Tech? Baylor? Kansas and Iowa State might be better but not see results in the record, which is the final judge. All that makes for a very competitive race for bowl games and positioning in the league standings. For WVU, the Mountaineers might be just as good as they were a year ago, but getting to ten wins will be even more difficult than it was in 2016.