Before and after the process that led to the Mountaineers taking their muskets to the Big XII, rarely did I hear a word of dissent. Universally, people loved the idea of WVU in the Big XII, particularly for football. For hoops, sure, we’d miss the bad-ass Big East, but for football? It was untainted glee. No one saw a downside.
Now that we’ve done it for a year, does everyone feel the same?
Looking back on it, I think we’ve got to judge it from two different perspectives: First, we’ll judge the experience for you, me and the rest of Mountaineer nation, and secondly, we’ll judge the on-field product: how we performed this year, and how we might fit in in the future.
The Big XII Experience for Me and You
It wasn’t without its downsides, but all in all, the Big XII experience for the fans was fantastic.
The biggest and best difference, obviously, was the big boy schedule. In the recent, dying years of the Big East, how many games a year would get you legitimately excited? We’d have maybe one exciting non-conference game, the Backyard Brawl, and then ten games against Iowa State-like opponents (no disrespect intended, Cyclones).
This year, the schedule was just bursting with games that couldn’t be missed. There wasn’t a conference game that didn’t have people jacked up. Even the last two, against non-marquee opponents, Iowa State and Kansas, turned out to be must-win games for us, which made them can’t miss. Every conference home game had a fantastic atmosphere at Mountaineer Field. Every one of them.
Could we say the same about Rutgers, UConn or South Florida coming to town?
I saw two downsides: No real rivalry game, and the distance for road games. I don’t think either one of them made a significant dent in the enjoyment of the season.
Sure, I miss playing Pitt. I hate Pitt, and I want Tino Sunseri to get crabs. But would you have traded the Texas game for a game against Pitt? The Oklahoma game? Kansas State, or even TCU? I can’t say I would have. You know, rivalries are great, and I hope we resume playing Pitt as soon as we can. Losing them, though, is a small price to pay for having high quality teams on the schedule, week-in, week-out.
As for the travel for road games, I’m not even sure that worked out to be a negative. I know a lot of people who had a blast in Austin. Yes, it’s 1,400 miles away, but how many trips to Cincinnati would you trade for one trip to Austin? About 43,000?
It doesn’t affect me much, because I’m not much of a traveler to begin with. And many of those who do travel to road games aren’t terribly concerned about the financial aspect of it.
It’ll probably take a few years before we can determine just how much of a pain in the ass it is to play in a conference where the closest opponent was in Ames, Iowa. For now, we’re still in the novelty stage. Four years from now, we may be tired of it. We’ll see.
The On-Field Outlook
I’m not sure that things are quite as rosy here. We finished with a winning record and played in a bowl game. Those things are good.
The problem is that this was supposed to be the year that we were really, really good. We had Geno. We had Tavon. We had Steadman. We were coming off the greatest performance in bowl game history. There was to be no team in the nation we couldn’t light up.
So next year, sans Geno, sans Tavon … how many games can we expect to win? We won’t be as talented or as highly-touted, so can we expect a decline from seven wins down to four or five? That doesn’t sound great to me.
But maybe this was one of those years where we just knew we’d be great, and we turned out not to be so great. It’s not like that’s unprecedented in Mountaineer history. And maybe we just aren’t used to the travel, and the new venues and the new opponents, and we’ll better adjust to those things in the future. I don’t know.
What I do know is that we can only rightfully claim to have been better than Iowa State and Kansas, which, as distasteful as we may find it, makes us a borderline Big XII cellar-dweller. And this is in a year where we were supposed to contend for a conference crown. I find this slightly alarming.
Was it the travel that killed us? The numbers paint kind of a muddled picture. At home in conference games, we went 2-3, and in road conference games, we were 2-2. So we actually had a better winning percentage on the road. The point differential paints a different picture, though. At home, we were +23, and on the road, we were a grizzly -46.
If you accept that Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were all of similar quality, then it looks like we can compete with these teams at home ‒ winning against Baylor, losing in two overtimes to TCU ‒ but we’ll be destroyed by them on the road ‒ crushed by both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
I’ve heard a few times that we were just a few plays away from being 9-3. I don’t buy it. Yes, the Oklahoma and TCU games could’ve easily gone our way, but if you accept that, you also have to accept that Baylor and Texas could’ve easily gone the other way. We were equidistant from 9-3 and 5-7.
Of course, one season is a small sample size, and it’s way too early to say we’re going to perennially be hanging around Iowa State and Kansas at the bottom of the standings. There is cause for concern, though ‒ many people had us winning the Big XII this year, and we didn’t even come close.
All told, it was a fun year, and a decent year ‒ a 7-6 season is not a train wreck, especially with so much of the unknown facing us this year. But it’s not very good, either. For me to feel really good about being a Big XII football team, we’re going to have to at least match that win total next year, and we’re going to have to do it with significantly less offensive firepower.
Pressure’s on, Coach Holgorsen.