On Monday, Pat McAfee made a comment that West Virginia ‘was back’ and summed it up to say that everyone should be on alert. After the performance Saturday night against the Pitt Panthers, it was an emotionally charged victory to be certain. Whether you subscribe to the Panthers beating themselves or that the West Virginia defense was top tier, the result is the same. But what does that mean moving forward?
What does it mean to say West Virginia is back?
Over the past seemingly decade, the University of Texas as taken every opportunity where things are going right for a short period of time to drop the phrase “We are back.” Sure, it gets a response at the time, but history has also shown that it typically leads to a disappointing result. It’s only this year that Texas is actually capitalizing on its deep well of potential talent coming into Austin. To the University of Texas, success is measured by an appearance in the playoffs or even the National Championship. But what is success measured as for the West Virginia Mountaineers?
Trusting the Climb
To say that West Virginia is back, in the context that McAfee did, was to liken this squad to the team in 2007 poised to appear in the National Championship against Ohio State. While I too am excited to help Pittsburgh pump the brakes on their season, I do not believe this team has the same athletes nor the scheme to capitalize on talent that the group 16 years ago did. So, let’s measure what the typical Mountaineer fan might consider a success to be, and what are measurable peg holes in the perceived climb:
Depth is a relatively new concept for our offense and defense alike. In years past, we had asked our top players to take the lion’s share of snaps to ensure any type of success on the field. The result was injuries and fatigue. If you take our defensive line this year for an example, you will see that we are exchanging fresh bodies into this system regularly throughout the game to produce the results that we have. This is only possible when you have skilled backups behind your starters that can continue to be disruptive while the top talent takes a breather. As it would appear, this is a milestone that West Virginia has started to reach.
Being a Contender for the Title
You can ask Kansas how it has felt for the past decade to be in the Big 12 basement. It was only last year and this season where people gave the Jayhawks the respect that they are developing with their new system, new coach, and energetic on-field product. Anyone who is paying attention to the conference can tell you that the Kansas Jayhawks are in every conversation for who becomes a contender for the Big 12 title this year. Measurable success is being in that conversation in general. True success is always being an opponent who cannot be discredited to make a run at the beginning of the season.
Getting and Staying Ranked
We have never been ranked in the Neal Brown era. As troublesome as that might be for the fan base, it speaks volumes about the inconsistencies of the win-loss record. Having never strung together three wins in any season, it is no great surprise that rankings did not follow the program. However, should the Mountaineers find success against Texas Tech and TCU, it stands to reason that might produce enough of a successful run to get some votes for the AP poll. Trusting the Climb is a lot easier with a number in front of your school’s name.
I am not going to say that Neal Brown needs to take this team to a National Championship this year or any year. I’m not entirely certain he is capable of that level of success. But, he can help this program to grow and inspire the fan base dive deeply into their love for the blue and gold once again. The only formula and the only path to that devotion is winning. At this point, the fan base does not care about flashy plays and trickeration, we care about the win column being a higher value than the loss column.