With the scope of college football changing, rivalries have to change in ways as well. While we will always consider Pittsburgh to be our greatest rival, we also need to consider looking inside of our own conference to find some bad blood that can broil up into some exciting football. Everyone gets up for rivalry games. The players hit harder, the plays matter more, and the fans make all the difference. Geography has always been a decisive factor in most of college football’s most heated rivalries throughout the years, but conferences are changing so dramatically, that geography is being pulled away from the equation.
Seventy some odd miles separates Morgantown from Pittsburgh, so fans have the ability to make it to either stadium without excessive travel time. However, we no longer share conferences. So the days of fans making the trips to Acrisure Stadium or Blacksburg VA are not as relevant anymore. We are keeping the Backyard Brawl for a bit longer, thankfully. A true testament to distance not mattering in a rivalry game is the yearly battle between USC and Notre Dame. The Irish were also influential in getting the ACC to pick up Stanford, as this would be a continual conference opponent for Notre Dame in the future if they survived the fall of the PAC 12.
So now, we look into our own conference to determine some of the matchups we face regularly that could spark a fire in our locker room and keep things interesting. Something to circle every year that is not and out of conference opponents, and a matchup that ultimately gets played for something like the Black Diamond as we do with Virginia Tech or the Iron Skillet TCU does with SMU.
I’ve given this much thought, and based my opinion on these potential in conference rivals on the likelihood of sharing a division with them in the coming years, and the excitement of the contest played so far. For example, even if Oklahoma were not leaving the conference next year, I would not consider them to be a good rival considering we have only beat them once since joining the Big 12 and only a few of those games have been decisively close.
While the cards are being played close to the chest, it is believed that the best course of action for the newly developing Big 12 conference is to split into two divisions based on geography much like the Big Ten has. It’s possible that this could be a North and South split, but it is much more likely to be East and West. That being said, the line for the eight teams making the cut for the East Division of the Big 12 would be:
- West Virginia
- Iowa State
- Kansas State
Making the West Division:
- Arizona State
- Texas Tech
- Oklahoma State
Given that this is only 7 conference opponents to fill 9 slots in the schedule, each team will play two from the opposing division during the season most likely.
Here are the three most likely conference rivalries to nurture if they end up division mates we play every season:
This will be a pretty easy game because we have always gone pretty toe-to-toe with the Bears. The series sits right now at 7-4 with the Mountaineers ahead, but these games have been shootouts in nearly every season. The scoring actually reflects this, with the Bears edging us out slightly 419 to 415 points across the 11 games we’ve played. This could be a fun conference rival considering how often we’ve played spoiler for the others season hopes.
Dana might as well have taken the cupboard with him as bare as some say he left the program. Heading to Houston has been largely hit and miss for this polarizing coach, and this year in particular is WVU’s chance to say we didn’t need him and to keep welcoming the Cougars to the Big 12 with some L’s. Dana won’t be able to resist taking some shots at our program, so this should be an easy game to get the squad riled up for.
This is a harder initial sell, but Cincinnati is coming into their own as a program to be sure. Our all time record with the Bearcats is 16-3-1 from our Big East days. But by the time Cincinnati was really good, they were not in a Power 5 conference anymore. Fans can and will travel well to Cincinnati and their fans will travel well to Morgantown. This reintroduces geography into the equation and makes the games worth hitting the road for in the coming years.
The foundation for the house of college football is constructed of rivalries and traditions. We need to build some drama so we have games on the schedule worth getting worked up about even if we cannot always make a trip halfway across the country to see it played on the road.
photo credit:WVU Athletics