WVU’s Hopes Not Dead in Big 12 Football Race
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — This, considering what we all witnessed on Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, is going to sound quite ridiculous, especially in the mood that loss to TCU left us all in.
But all it was, really, was a cramp in West Virginia’s desire to get to the first of the renewed Big 12 championship games rather than an amputation of any hope at all.
See, the Big 12 is like a bag of marshmallows … a lot of fluff, but pretty much, all alike.
As the season started, there were some who felt the Big 12 was among the nation’s premier conferences, with talk that the championship game would definitely get one of its members — if not two — into the National Championship Playoffs.
And if you were a betting man, your money would have been on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as those two teams, with Kansas State as another team primed to be a factor nationally.
Completely overlooked was the state of Texas, where football is a religion and, while the high priest is Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys, the congregation that includes TCU, Texas and Texas Tech among its Big 12 members were badly overlooked.
So what do you have, two games into the Big 12 season?
Neither of the only two unbeaten teams in Big 12 play are named Oklahoma nor Oklahoma State, but instead TCU, which verified its credentials by winning at Arkansas, at Oklahoma State and at home against West Virginia, and a revitalized Texas team that is improving weekly (not weakly) and proved to be Kansas State’s Alamo in a Saturday night thriller.
Fact is, even Texas Tech has somehow discovered that you are allowed to play defense in the game of football and is off to a 4-1 start and looms as a dangerous opponent for West Virginia on Homecoming this week, though not nearly as dangerous to the Mountaineers as the conference’s officials seem to be.
The point of this is that while the conference’s chance to reach the national playoffs was what may have been mortally wounded with the losses by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, it set up a situation where almost anyone but hapless and hopeless Kansas — and we might as well throw Iowa State into the mix, too, considering how it whipped the Sooners — could work its way into the championship game.
That, of course, includes West Virginia, although it must be stressed that to date they have given no indication they deserve to be included among the leagues elite.
The Mountaineers have played two legitimate teams and have two legitimate losses, each by the identical score of 31-24.
Both times they showed an ability to move the ball while slowing an opponent, but they still showed their annual ineptitude on special teams and an inability to put points on the board that reflected their first down and total yardage figures.
And quarterback Will Grier, who with the Sooners’ Baker Mayfield coming off a losing performance may just be working his way into position to be recognized as the league’s top signal-caller, put it even more simply.
“We’ve got to find away to win those games,” Grier said.
As they say, where there’s a Will there’s a way, and WVU’s Will is named Grier. He darn near pulled this one out with two touchdown passes in the third quarter to David Sills V and Ka’Raun White that totaled 140 of his 366 passing yards for the day.
There was some talk that the wide receivers were worn out by game’s end as the same four — Sills, White, Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings — played virtually the whole game without substitution, but when you have Jennings catching 10 passes, Simms as the man who spreads the field deep and Sills with nine TD receptions this year and White a blossoming star, you simply can’t take them out of close games.
Most encouraging was how improved Tony Gibson’s defensive unit was. It got his wounded players back, led by David Long, whose only miscue was failing to tackle quarterback Kenny Hill, who did make a nifty 360-degree spin move on his long touchdown
“When the game’s on the line you’ve got to stop people and get off the field, and you’ve got to finish the job and we didn’t do that for two out of the first five games,” Holgorsen said.
And so now they find themselves one of the marshmallows in the bag that is the Big 12, just hoping that they aren’t toasted from those two losses.