The Times West Virginian

November 24, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Mountaineers have faced tougher schedules in past

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Much of the discussion this past week has centered around the state of West Virginia University football, which has fallen upon the hard times that 4-7 seasons and losses to Kansas can bring upon you

It has begun with a campaign launched by beleaguered coach Dana Holgorsen for yet another upgrade in facilities, an area, to be quite frank, that any coach with a losing record would be best served to put on the back burner until he has done something to earn the people’s trust rather than trying to dip into their trust funds.

But facilities are a conversation for another day, because there is a subject far closer to our hearts that has come under attack, and that is the legacy of the West Virginia football program inherited by Holgorsen.

To hear him talk of it you would think two years ago WVU jumped from the Big East into the National Football League, not the Big 12. This, we are being told, is a journey into big-time football, as if the Big 12 were a different level.

To be honest, a case can be made that the Big 12 is not the conference it once was, certainly not the conference it was with Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M. True, Baylor and Oklahoma State and even Kansas State have become national factors, but they have done so at a time when Oklahoma and Texas have gone into slumps.

Still, the propaganda selling the Big 12 as something it is not has taken hold in some areas, even in the media where a dear friend and former coworker has swallowed the argument that in a blog last week he authored the following sentence:

The Mountaineers have never, ever played a schedule like they have these past two years.

… never, ever?

Give me a break!

True there have been interesting schedules since coming to the Big 12, but the toughest ever?

Let’s take a look at this.

Each of the past two years they played four Top 25 teams, which is to be respected … but only one of the eight was a Top 10 team, that being No. 4 Kansas State last year. Other than that last year they played Nos. 11, 13 and 25 and this year Nos. 11, 16, 16 and 17.

I’m not buying this year as a tough schedule at all, not with no Top 10 team and William & Mary and Georgia State and Kansas and Iowa State among the opposition.

What were the toughest schedules?

In 2003, WVU also played four ranked teams, but they were four ranked teams with No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Virginia Tech along with Nos. 21 Wisconsin and 23 Maryland.

That is No. 2 and 3 in the country the Mountaineers played that season, folks … and it still doesn’t match the toughest of schedules WVU has faced.

In 200,1 Rich Rodriguez, with the facilities he inherited in that, his first year, played No. 1, Miami, No 6 Virginia Tech , No. 14 Syracuse and No. 25 Maryland … which is a pretty tough way to break into the major college head coaching profession.

Then you want a challenge? The year after the unbeaten 1993 season WVU opened with No. 4 Nebraska, who would wind up the unbeaten national champion, then also played No. 7 Miami,

No. 14 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Boston College and No. 22 Syracuse.

That’s five Top 25 teams.

The year before the unbeaten 1993 team had a tough way to go, too, playing not only Miami but twice against the 14th ranked teams, Penn State and Syracuse, and once against the No. 22 B.C.

The classic year was 1986, not because WVU played a murderer’s row week after week, but because it played Miami and Penn State, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the nation.

In 1981 the Mountaineers played the No. 1 Penn State and No. 4 Pitt, and in 1978 they played the No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 20 Pitt teams.

Then, in 1982, they played top 10 teams, a pair of No. 9s, along with No. 4 and tossed in No. 2 Pitt just to make it interesting. And it was interesting. They lost to No. 2 Pitt by just 16-13 and managed to beat only one of those Top 10 teams — Oklahoma — along with No. 19 Boston College, quarterbacked by a guy named Flutie.

This is not meant in any way to belittle today’s team or the conference it plays in, but to emphasize that this has been a big-time program for a long time and that it is facing no tougher a challenge in the Big 12 than it ever has faced.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.