What Might Have Been For West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — What better time to think what might have been for West Virginia than the day it finds itself going back to the future, heading for Orlando to play former Big East rival Syracuse in the World Camping Bowl at 5:15 p.m. on December 28?
Okay, as it turned out this year, despite high hopes, the Mountaineers weren’t a Top Four team by any stretch of the imagination. Their only chance to crack that party would have come with an undefeated season and certainly that never realistically was in the cards.
But three losses for this team was more than most expected and that made the difference between facing Syracuse in a second-tier bowl and someone with much higher profile than the Orange.
Why did it happen?
This was a team that was good enough to beat Texas, admittedly by a two-point conversion with 16 seconds left, but to beat them before 100,000 fans in Austin.
Think about that victory for a minute. Think what that says about what could have been.
Texas was the only team all season to beat Oklahoma, which is in the Final Four.
But beating the Longhorns only got the Mountaineers a ticket to Space Mountain, not onto the top of the college football mountain. The Camping World Bowl is hardly the showcase Will Grier, David Sills, Gary Jennings and company deserve as going away presents.
When you look closely at West Virginia, you wonder just how close it really was to being Top Ten, may Top Five material.
Beat Texas, then lose by three points to Oklahoma, 59-56, when Will Grier had a pair of fumbles returned for touchdowns to carve out the difference in the game.
True, that’s a heavy burden to place on anyone and certainly the only reason those fumbles were important was that Grier threw for 539 yards and four touchdowns, so just take it as a mention of fact.
In life, you see, you take the bad with the good and Grier handled it all with class. But if one of those fumbles had bounced the other way WVU would have probably been a Top 10 team and on its way to one of the big-time games.
Even with that loss to Oklahoma, which certainly is not a blight on anyone’s career or record, WVU was not going anywhere because they had one game cancelled due to Hurricane Florence and because they lost two other games that elite teams shouldn’t have lost.
The first was to Iowa State.
We accept that it was on the road in a most hostile setting. But they won at Texas.
We accept that Iowa State was a better team than its record … but you can’t overlook its record.
The Cyclones lost four games.
Yet against the Mountaineers they looked like they were the Lombardi Packers, the Monsters of the Midway at their greatest, the unbeaten Dolphins all wrapped up into one. The Cyclones held that high-octane West Virginia offense to one offensive touchdown and 152 total yards, Grier’s golden arm producing only 100 yards of that through the air.
But as noted, we accept that because Iowa State has proven itself capable of knocking off Top 10 teams over the past couple of years.
How, though, can you explain losing at Oklahoma State?
How can you explain losing by four points to a team that lost six games and was 3-6 in the conference?
Now it’s true that there was a great deal of parity in the Big 12 and that the top teams — Oklahoma, Texas and WVU — had little to separate them from each other.
And, it is equally true that even the champion, Oklahoma, was vulnerable. They lost to Texas and were scared by West Virginia in that three-point game; by Texas Tech in a five-point victory; by narrowly eking out a one-point victory over that same Oklahoma State team that beat WVU; and by having Army confuse and confound them in 28-21 victory.
True, the Cowboys had their moments. They beat Texas by three points, should have beaten Oklahoma, losing that narrow decision; and won over a Boise State team that was ranked 25th at the time.
But they lost to Kansas. And Kansas State. Both teams will go into next season with new coaches, Bill Snyder finally giving into Father Time and retiring at Kansas State where he was the program and David Beaty being fired at Kansas.
Six losses certainly signal there was something wrong in Stillwater and losing to them was a costly defeat for WVU.
The result of it all was the filet mignon went to the teams who had no losses or one while the ground chuck is what you wind up with when you can’t make it to the five-star bowl games.
True, this figures to be entertaining game with two teams who go up and down the field, each coach brought up in the Air Raid offense.