Schedule Can Make Or Break Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–There are any number of factors that go into the respect a football team gets in the polls.
They range from talent to coaching to blind luck.
The most overlooked item, however, is scheduling.
There is nothing more damaging to a college football team’s season than to overschedule or to underschedule.
To be ranked high, you have to play a high-level schedule or the voters won’t value many of your victories. But that’s not always easy to do, because you are scheduling down the road three, four or five years.
You can get all the wins you want over Coastal Carolina, Youngstown State or Wofford, but they aren’t going to do anything but pad your bowl situation.
A big part of it is the league in which you perform. That was very much on the minds of the Mountaineers as the Big East self-destructed and they went looking for a new home. When the ACC snubbed them, things looked bleak until the Big 12 not only showed interest but opted to absorb them rather than Louisville.
WVU was thrilled. Now they would be playing Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU on a yearly basis … giving them a strong enough conference schedule to withstand anyone’s analysis.
Or so they thought.
Then last year came around WVU wound up with a 10-2 regular season record and could do no more than get an invite to the Russell Athletic Bowl to face an unranked Miami team.
How did that happen?
Well, would you believe playing in the Big 12, the only ranked team WVU played last season was No. 8 Oklahoma, which knocked them around, 56-28, hardly the kind of stuff the bowl committees are looking at.
This is not what’s expected in Big 12 football. In fact, in Mountaineer history they have only had three seasons in which they have played as many as five ranked teams and the last one was 2014.
That season saw a so-so 7-6 record with four of the losses to No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 10 TCU and No. 12 K-State, while the Mountaineers did engineer a 41-27 upset of No. 4 Baylor.
A case can be made for that season — five games against the nation’s top dozen teams — as being the most difficult in school history.
In 2003, WVU also played five nationally ranked teams, finishing and hinting quite strongly that it was a Top 10 team. Consider that it beat two of those five ranked teams rather easily, No. 16 Pitt at 52-31, and No. 3 Virginia Tech, again by three touchdowns.
What’s more, the season included one of the most disappointing losses in school history, that 22-20 heartbreaker to Miami in which Quincy Wilson provided one of the great plays ever by a Mountaineer only to have Kellen Winslow almost match it with a miraculous fourth-down catch to set up the winning score.
WVU’s other season in which it played five ranked teams was 1994 — the year after the unbeaten season of 1993 — which began with an awful 31-0 beating by then-No. 4 Nebraska, which would win the national title, finishing at 7-6 thanks to being able to upset No. 17 Boston College, 21-20, and No. 10 Syracuse, 13-0.
Those three seasons in which WVU played five nationally ranked teams all had one thing in common — they started with a non-conference matchup against a top team … Nebraska in 1994, No. 21 Wisconsin in 2003, and No. 2 Alabama in 2014.
As you already know, this season begins with a game against No. 21 Virginia Tech. Going on the assumption that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will also be ranked, probably in the Top 10, and that bowl game could provide a ranked opponent, WVU need only play TCU, Texas, Baylor or Kansas State as ranked teams to match the record with five.
And there’s a high probability that two of those teams may also crack the Top 25 in what may be a big year for the Big 12.
The point to all this?
Yes, there is one … this really may be a strong WVU team that Dana Holgorsen is putting together, but its schedule may be the factor that decides just what kind of season this will be.