The Times West Virginian

Sports

September 21, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Mountaineers need to fix downward trend at Maryland

MORGANTOWN — A year ago, when West Virginia University did what it had to do – and you may notice no one ever said it was what West Virginia would have done given a plate full of equal options – and jumped to the Big 12, the one certainty was that it was entering a football conference that would lift its national prominence.

Five victories into last season, it was obvious just how high that prominence could be lifted as national championship talk came into the picture alongside a more likely scenario of quarterback Geno Smith walking on stage to accept the Heisman Trophy as Johnny Manziel sat among the also-rans applauding.

But as Sir Isaac Newton once observed, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and soon WVU had six losses on its resume, Geno Smith was a second-round draft pick and the Big 12 was a conference on the decline.

As West Virginia today goes out to look for some of the national respect that it has lost by losing eight games while managing to beat only Kansas, Iowa State, William & Mary and Georgia State, the issue must be addressed.

Things trend in sports, and WVU and the Big 12 are currently riding the down escalator, something that needs to be fixed and fixed now.

For West Virginia, that makes this border rivalry meeting with Maryland one of the season’s – and maybe the decade’s – most crucial games.

Maryland wound up with one of those options that WVU would have far more coveted than the Big 12, membership in the Big 10, and is trying to upgrade its athletic image to match. A victory over WVU would carry it a long way down that road.

But this game really isn’t about Maryland … not in this neck of the woods.

The Big 12 and West Virginia needs some respect. There is no Top 10 team in the conference. There is no Top 15 team outside the state of Oklahoma, which presents Oklahoma State at No. 11 in both polls and Oklahoma at Nos. 12 and 14, setting up a state championship showdown that could also be a conference championship showdown.

As for Texas, what has happened there has put a weight around the entire conference’s neck, for everything is bigger in Texas, including failure.

Coach Mack Brown, as likeable a coach as you will ever come across, has turned into as lickable a coach, losing far too often, two in a row now after being buried by BYU and Mississippi. This is not acceptable in what, along with Oklahoma, has carried the Big 12.

“Not a lot of teams in college football that are 1-2 have 100,000 people coming to see their games,” is the way he put it.

In saying that, though, Brown sounds almost in denial as he proceeds into this weekend.

“I told ’em,” he said, “we’ve got a new start next week. We’ve got Kansas State. We could get all this righted by winning the Big 12 championship, and that’s what they’ve got to do. We win the Big 12 championship, we’ll be excited, and that’s all we’ve got left.”

Of course, he is right. It is all that’s left and theoretically it can be done, but hiring former Syracuse coach Greg Robinson to run the defense hardly would seem to be a fix all.

This, of course, brings us back to West Virginia, which might even seem to have a brighter future than Texas if Ford Childress, a quarterback the state of Texas let get away, can build on a promising debut.

It is beginning to appear that this is Childress’ team.

Like all freshmen, he’s going to see all-out blitz after blitz after blitz. It happened against Georgia State and is also certain to happen against Maryland.

“(Georgia State) probably did it six times. They got to us twice, hit us twice and we did the right thing twice,’’ coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That’s not good enough.

“I’m not so sure (the Terps) don’t come out doing it every single snap. If they do, then we’ve got to be able to handle it. I hope they zero blitz us every snap.’’

If they do, they become vulnerable to the WVU talented receiving corps, and Childress might be able to engineer the upset – Maryland is favored by about 5 points – which would go a long way toward changing everything about this football season.

And, if WVU can right its ship, possibly Texas can do the same, and the world might look at the Big 12 as a conference back on the rise.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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