By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
In no small way, West Virginia and its opponent this week, Texas Christian University, mirror each other ... and that is not necessarily a good thing.
Both are best known by their initials: WVU and TCU.
Both are the new teams in the Big 12 Conference, each heading toward the end of its second season.
Both came to the Big 12 from the Big East, although TCU never played there and did not get stuck with the $20 million exit fee WVU agreed to.
Both are 3-5, each possessing a 1-4 conference record.
Both are winless on the road and 3-1 at home ... and in this engagement that does not bode well for WVU, which must travel to Fort Worth.
Both have had quarterback problems this year, limiting their chances to win.
Both had conference schedules stacked against them, top heavy at the beginning with WVU playing its first four conference games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech and TCU facing Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas (OK, it wasn’t a suicide mission), Oklahoma State and Texas.
Both faced a pair of powerful conference opponents after those teams had enjoyed a bye week and had two weeks to prepare — WVU facing Baylor and Oklahoma State, TCU facing Texas and Oklahoma State.
One would not suggest that degree of difficulty in your scheduling is the price you pay coming into a new league — especially with the most powerful school in the conference, Texas, having to close by facing Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor in succession — but it is food for thought.
At any rate, there has been much discussion about the problems that have been presented by switching leagues, a discussion that has grown in volume ever since WVU’s nationally ranked start from a year ago turned into a string of 11 losses in 16 games.
If it isn’t the travel it is that the league is more powerful than WVU imagined or that the Mountaineers trail in facilities as if they were running their football program out of a couple of double-wides in the stadium parking lot.
Then there is that dreaded lack of depth that is haunting both teams, as if games aren’t won and lost on your starting quarterback more than on any backup guard or linebacker.
Is it real that things have changed for both schools by moving to a new conference?
Of course they have. At least at West Virginia the question is if those changes weren’t magnified by internal changes within the program itself, changes in everything from athletic director to coaches to football philosophies to radio stations.
The two head coaches — WVU’s Dana Holgorsen and TCU’s Gary Patterson — addressed the transition during Monday’s Big 12 football coaches conference call.
“The transition from Big East to Big 12, we knew it was going to be challenging,” Holgorsen said. “The Big 12 obviously has some of the best ball that is going to be played across the country. You have teams with facilities, with recruiting, with players and all that stuff. All that stuff needs to improve on our end. You can only do so much stuff in a day.
“Our focus right now is trying to improve every week, which is challenging when you are playing good football teams.”
Holgorsen admitted it was a superficial answer, simply generalizing on the situation.
“The overall aspect of the program would take quite some time to discuss,” he said, respecting the time limitations on a conference call.
Asked if there are adjustments being made in a second year, sort of like a baseball lineup doesn’t know a pitcher the first time it faces him but makes adjustments the second time through, Holgorsen said he could not “buy into that.”
“There’s not a whole lot of secrets when you are preparing for a team,” he said.
It is, however, in his mind bigger than that.
“I’ve been vocal on this,” he said. “Just as I think it is going to take a couple of years for everyone to understand the magnitude of the Big 12, our coaches and players included. There’s some familiarity that needs to exist. This will be the first time our program plays at TCU, so there are some unknowns that need to be talked about and experienced.
“Once you visit one of these venues, you got guys in the locker room who have been to those venues and have played all nine of those teams a couple of times, two and three years in a row, it will probably get a little bit easier,” he continued.
“I don’t know if that’s an advantage for us or for the opponent. I don’t view it as an advantage either way.”
Patterson was asked if he had noticed things TCU had to adjust to from its first to second year in the Big 12.
“I’ve always said it takes you two years on both sides of the ball to do that,” he answered. “Then recruiting, I felt it would take three to five years, so there really hasn’t been an adjustment.”
Another issue is one Holgorsen has addressed in recent days as injuries have mounted, and that is a lack of depth in comparison to the established Big 12 teams.
“Offensively, you lose some players. We’ve been playing with 55 instead of 70 and it’s made a difference for us,” Patterson said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.