By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
While it normally is pure folly to place an entire season on a single game, West Virginia University comes as close to doing that as you can get today when it travels to take on the Kansas State Wildcats.
Kickoff is 3:45 p.m., and the game will be shown on Fox Sports 1.
While this may not quite qualify as a win-or-else game in coach Dana Holgorsen’s career as West Virginia’s head coach, it surely is a win-or-what game, for should the Mountaineers lose to a K-State team that is winless in three Big 12 Conference games and 2-4 overall, it would go to 3-5 for the season and 5-11 in its last 16 games.
Those are unacceptable figures at a school that has placed its athletic reputation on its football program and that had gone 75-20 since the end of the 2005 season heading into the sixth game last year.
Dreams of a BCS bowl game are long gone, victimized by a killer schedule that saw the Mountaineers face four Big 12 teams that have lost but two games between them – and one of those losses was WVU’s upset of Oklahoma State.
Lose this game, though, and hopes of getting a bowl game that would have any more significance than just extending WVU’s time to practice fall significantly … if it doesn’t, in the end, even signify that WVU is not so much as a .500 team capable of playing in a bowl game.
Holgorsen admitted earlier this week that thinking about a bowl is not a priority at a moment just winning a game – any game – has become so critical.
“We’re focused on Kansas State right now,’’ Holgorsen said early in the week. “A bowl game is important, but a fourth win is more important. We’ve not gotten to the point where we need to talk about the motivation to win. I think the motivation to win is there.’’
It is difficult to imagine even a discussion of motivation to win at any stage of any season, for winning is the most obvious short-term goal any athlete can possess. It is what the sweat and bruises and pain point toward.
Be you looking to be No. 1 in the nation or trying to avoid a winless season, the motivation to win remains constant. But while there is a hope to win three of the final five games, a trip to bowl can add to that motivation.
“Obviously making it to a bowl game is one of our goals that we have set as a program. And we obviously want to meet that goal.’’
In truth, making a bowl game is not a very lofty goal for a school that has tasted victories over Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson in major bowl games in the last eight years.
The players understand the situation is not what they came to West Virginia to experience.
“We just want to take it game by game,’’ said running back Dreamius Smith, who rushed for two touchdowns against Texas Tech last week. “We’re kind of in a bind, but we won’t look that far ahead. We’re just going to take each game one at a time and keep working hard in practice and keep getting better.’’
And linebacker Isaiah Bruce took this view of it.
“We have to stay positive, look forward and realize that this season is not over yet. Every year it seems like Big 12 teams are always taking out each other. We just have to push through it and get better.’’
That is far easier to say than it is to do, although the schedule from here on consists of the Little 5 of the Big 12 … although Texas might be able to present an argument against inclusion in that group with its upset of Oklahoma.
Winning this game could go a long way toward restoring confidence in a team that acquitted itself well through most of the Texas Tech game and possible launch the Mountaineers on a run to a strong finish that would give them some momentum heading into next season.
But, seriously, what if the Mountaineers do go into Kansas State and lose, a very real possibility for a team that has lost more than it has won in recent weeks and that is facing a legendary coach in Bill Snyder, who has benefitted from having a bye week to prepare his team for West Virginia?
Holgorsen has to find a way to have his team come out with the fury and emotion it would have in a national championship game. Anything less, with the lack of experienced talent on the team, would make victory on the road seem like mission impossible.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.