Oklahoma Remains Top Target For WVU In 2018
MORGANTOWN — The one nice thing about being a sportswriter in this area is that whenever you get into a sports lull, as we are now, being in a university city where school has ended and graduation week looms, you can always turn to football.
In this area of the country, football is king.
Other sports, it seems, are merely passing fancies, even though they offer far more games and take up far more of our time in front of television sets. Baseball, hockey, even basketball, light our passions for only so long but football is forever.
It is why, no matter how many warnings about the dangers of the game, how many concussions and torn tendons and broken bones we read about, we refuse to back away from it either as spectators or players.
With that in mind, it seemed to be as good a time as any to delve into what is an interesting question, for we are still really newcomers to Big 12 football, a move that changed our entire outlook on the sport.
It put an end to our traditional rivalries and took us away from regional rivalries, leaving one to wonder just how people felt about the opponents West Virginia plays. That led to an online poll — admittedly hardly one with any scientific basis but one that might be able to create some conversation.
And so it was we asked on social media if WVU could win only one game this year, which would it be, making it a multiple choice question with the our teams being the Tennessee opener or conference rivals Texas, Oklahoma or TCU… the three most historically significant programs in the Big 12.
The result was overwhelming.
You spelled it O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.
87 percent for Oklahoma, just 8 percent for Tennessee and Texas and TCU seemed not to matter at all at 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively, if not respectfully.
Not that this is a surprise, for there is a certain magic in the Oklahoma football brand that few other universities can match… Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State.
Oklahoma’s success was imprinted upon my consciousness early, when I left New Jersey to attend Missouri. My freshman year there Missouri beat Oklahoma, setting off one of those celebrations on the level of the ones they had in the couch burning days in Morgantown, for it was the first time the Tigers had beaten Oklahoma in 15 years.
The Sooners then were every bit what Alabama is now. Coached by the legendary Bud Wilkinson and running his relentless Split-T offense, the Sooners ran off 47 consecutive victories at one point, which remains the all-time NCAA Division 1 record.
Under Wilkinson they went 145-29-4, which is an .826 winning percentage, and during one 11-year span they went 107-8-2 winning 92 percent of their games.
By comparison, Nick Saban has coached 11 years at Alabama and owns a 127-20 record, which is 86 percent of its games. Wilkinson won three national titles at Oklahoma, Saban five at Alabama … to go with one more at LSU.
More interesting to those of us wrapped in WVU football, however, is the role the Sooners have played in Mountaineer football history. Though limited to just 10 meetings, and even though the Mountaineers own only two victories, none since joining the Big 12, those victories were two of the most meaningful in school history.
The first came in 1982 when Don Nehlen announced to the world that a WVU program that not long before that was not ready for prime was about to burst on the scene as a major player, going into Norman and beating the Sooners, 41-27, as Jeff Hostetler threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns.
And the second came when WVU was facing its darkest hour in its football history. Geared up to play for the national championship, the Mountaineers of 2007 had needed only to beat Backyard Brawl rival Pitt at home.
A 28.5 point favorite, they somehow managed to lay the biggest egg in school history, being scrambled, 13-9, by the hated Panthers.
As the shadow of defeat engulfed Morgantown, complete darkness struck when Coach Rich Rodriguez walked out on his team, leaving for Michigan and sending them out to face the powerful Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl.
With Bill Stewart filling in as interim head coach and giving one of the most famous speeches in WVU history as he told his team to “leave no doubt”, Stewart rallied the Mountaineers to beat the Sooners, 48-28.
To heap more misery upon them Steve Slaton, their great running back, was injured one carry into the game and had to leave, yet nothing would stop them at quarterback Pat White rushed for 150 yards and threw for 176, Noel Devine rushed for another 108 yards.
The program, which could have spiraled out of control downward at that moment, was saved. Stewart was given the head coach job and WVU ultimately joined the Big 12, elevating it into one of the five power conferences in the country.
Now, to fully prove they belong, the Mountaineers have to find a way to get that first Big 12 victory over Oklahoma and may not have a better shot at it than this year as they return one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Will Grier while the Sooners must replace Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at the position.