In the remaining games of its season, there are next to no contests in which the Mountaineers find themselves favored to win, except this weekend against the Duquesne Dukes. What must happen is that WVU needs to change the narrative about the team and put together an electric field product. You look at what worked in the past: the 1988 season when the West Virginia Mountaineers had a National Championship appearance.
To truly change the story about the Mountaineer football program and therefore influence metrics like the ESPN FPI predicting the probability of victories, you have to show some dominance in at least one phase of the game. Unfortunately, winning the game that everyone expects you to will not do it, and we missed the chance to upset Penn State on the road.
You must evaluate the path of the conference games past the Backyard Brawl looming next weekend. There is no way to sidestep it – you have to win the brawl at home this year. Lose the brawl, you lose a lot of the fans who are now seeing the team drop to 1-2. Enter conference play 2-1, and then we can discuss the path to the Big 12 Championship Game.
Fortunately for WVU, the standards by which the contestants of the Championship matchup are determined matter mostly about performance against the last 9 games of the schedule, and things like Penn State likely will not matter. Best of all, you likely do not need to win out to get there – you just must show up in a big way when it matters.
Becoming the Underdog
WVU started this season with so little respect, underwhelming prospects from the other conferences joining the Big 12 were given more chance of success. Picked #14 in the conference was a hard pill to swallow, but a solid foundation for a needed chip on our shoulders. Even if you get by a trio of Texas teams and the hype train starts rolling, you’ve got to remember they still don’t expect the team to go the distance.
Wearing Them Down
In the storied, nearly perfect season of 1988, WVU leaned into its strengths. They found their identity under redshirt freshman Major Harris and blew by everyone – even Penn State. Even with the week-to-week successes of the program through the first three games, West Virginia would still be considered an underdog in the game against Pitt and thought unlikely to get by Penn State and the season’s final game against the Syracuse Orange.
They did what they knew best – running the ball and leaving Major Harris to do some play extending when it mattered most. Redshirt junior Garrett Greene is underutilized if you compare Harris’ numbers to Greene’s, even on a game-by-game basis. There seems to be little in the way of designed plays for Garrett to mobilize quickly, and instead allow his leg ability to be an afterthought to salvage when receivers are not available. There was never a game in the 1988 season where the offense failed to produce less than 226 rushing yards, but the average for the 11 games was 293 yards. If you reach a point where the run game is that dominant, and you can include some short-range throws, we don’t need a fantastic receiver room for how wide-open they will be at times for deep ball threats.
Zero Expectation Season
You got who you got, and we aren’t a team built for a national title run like the squad in 1988. However, with the remaining games on the schedule – we might have a chance to sneak in the Big 12 title game with some calculated plays that aren’t god-awful trick scheme abominations in front of 110,000 fans in a hostile stadium. So, every game becomes a situation where you realize they expected us to lose this one, so we’ve got nothing to lose to put it all on the table. If Neal Brown wants to keep his job, he will have to stop being something teams don’t even have to prepare to face.
Here’s what’s upcoming:
Pitt (Sept. 16th) – Must win. If Brown coaches us out of the Brawl two years in a row, there is no conversation left to be had to keep him around.
Texas Tech (Sept. 23) – Tech has beaten WVU yearly with Brown coaching. They know how to beat us and can likely do it again unless we match the intensity.
@TCU (Sept. 30) – TCU might have been stood up at home in their opener, but Sonny Dykes did not come to coach in Dallas to lose. This will take all the juice in the tank before our weird bye-week.
@Houston (Oct. 12) – This is also a game the fans have to see a victory. The Houston team is not that good, and if Brown is still around at this point, this is a way you can begin your conversation about the climb again. Ideally, you have played close games to this halfway point, and WVU is 5-1 but no less than 4-2. However, if you have lost to any of these Big 12 teams, the likelihood of reaching the Championship in 2023 is 0.
Oklahoma State (Oct. 21) – Coming off another long week from the Houston game, the Mountaineers should have ample time to create a system of football designed to beat UCF, but that is good enough to skid by the hit-and-miss Cowboys.
@UCF (Oct. 28) –This game will be more important for the standings than initially thought. UCF, like us, has a very mobile quarterback situation with Plumlee. This will be an exciting shootout with some tired defenses.
BYU ((Nov. 4) – The Cougars are a coin flip because you don’t know what team you are getting from season to season. Their years of independent play made schedules soft, and I expect this to be a nice get-right game for WVU if UCF gives us a loss the week before.
@Oklahoma (Nov. 11) – No road to the Big 12 Championship doesn’t pass through Norman in their final year. Brent Venables was barely allowed to make it through dismal season one, so expect this Oklahoma team to bring the house to grab one more trophy on the way out the door.
Cincinnati (Nov. 18) – Old Big East foes in Cincinnati are in a rebuilding year, and I hope that by this point in the season, our on-field product has hit its stride.
@Baylor (Nov. 25) – If we had an actual in-conference rival – this is my vote. We have had some absolute shootouts and played spoiler for the other team on multiple occasions. This is quite a brewing feud that could become chippy regardless of the season implications.
(photo courtesy of USA Today)