MORGANTOWN — Are you ready for some football?
I mean, real football, not that ESPN+ stuff, not those FCS teams.
We’re talking a madhouse at noon on Saturday at Mountaineer Field when Virginia Tech returns to town to play what probably is the biggest game Neal Brown has coached at West Virginia. It’s probably the biggest game since Oklahoma came to town in 2018, West Virginia ranked No. 7 and the Sooners No. 6 and it was one of those rare games against Oklahoma that lived up to its billing.
Final score, 59-56. You know who won, of course, since Oklahoma has never lost to WVU since they joined the Big 12.
And Oklahoma, in that 2018, game had a quarterback named Kyler Murray, who came out on top even though the Heisman Trophy winner was outplayed by WVU’s Will Grier, who threw for 539 yards and five touchdowns.
Of course, if WVU beats Virginia Tech, and the Mountaineers opened as a 2.5-point favorite, the Oklahoma game becomes Neal Brown’s biggest game as Mountaineer coach as he gets to measure just what kind of strides his team has made doing it on primetime on a major network.
The game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 25 in Norman on ABC.
This two-game stretch has come up huge not so much because WVU is that point in its development that it would be expected to sweep both teams, considering that the Mountaineers have lost their last 11 straight decisions to the two teams combined (Oklahoma 8 and Virginia Tech 3).
What takes it a step beyond for the Mountaineers is circumstances, the least of which is that they at stand 1-1 and should they lose both games they would be 1-3 and trying to tunnel out of the rubble. But win one or two of them and they have stamped themselves a team ready to step smartly into the future.
And all of a sudden, the future is what it is all about, even though an impatient fan base is ready to take the next step forward in the “climb” Brown wants everyone to trust.
The college football world is spinning crazily around WVU with Oklahoma and Texas headed to the SEC and the Big 12 offering up a four-pack of credible replacements in Cincinnati, BYU, Central Florida and Houston ... an interesting mishmash of programs who are on their game at the moment and have a solid football history and fan backing.
From all appearances, the Oklahoma ogres will be gone within a couple of years from a Big 12 Conference they have completely dominated since the league was formed.
And that, one might note, opens the door for someone else to possible grab the championship hardware, maybe even build a dynasty as did Oklahoma, although no one has the historical impact on the game of college football that the Sooners have.
With new teams and more evenly matched old teams, the Big 12 would seem to be heading toward parity. And with the Mountaineers riding a recruiting high and having created a player-friendly facilities atmosphere, why could they not take charge of the league.
Matt Wells, the Texas Tech coach, understands there is opportunity to step into the sunshine and out of the shadow the Sooners have cast over the Big 12.
“It’s still a couple of years away, right?” Wells said. “I’m not sure how that is going to look, but the four teams coming in and certainly the eight in the Big 12 a lot could change in the next couple of years, so I’m not sure we’re doing anything but guessing. But the teams coming in have been good, some years really, really good.
“The teams left in the Big 12 are very comparable in terms of dominance. Iowa State has played the best and Oklahoma State has played the best the longest. In a couple of years anything can happen.”
Indeed, it can. Cincinnati right now would be a contender in the Big 12, but where will it be in two years, which is the same question you have about West Virginia.
Transitioning to a new conference, as WVU found when it came from the Big East to the Big 12 was probably more difficult than it is now. When the Mountaineers made the move, it was a gimmicky, the ‘throw-the-ball all over the lot and play no defense league’ that now is in the midst of mainstream transitioning.
Dave Aranda of Baylor also sees opportunity to move up in a newly formatted Big 12.
“The opportunity is there for a fair amount of teams in the league. You are looking at teams that are built similar. There’s a toughness to them, there is a simple approach yet can have a sophisticated approach to them. It isn’t tricks and gadgets. It’s fundamentals and execution now. You love that approach,” Aranda said.
Gary Patterson of TCU is the most veteran coach in the Big 12 and has not only been in the coaching business for 40 years, but has undergone changing leagues a couple of times, making him the man to go to about how this will work out for the conference.
“Look at BYU, they got a large group and are really throwing the football, Central Florida is one of the biggest universities in the country, so they have a great recruiting base and with the transfer rule you will always be playing at a great skill level. All the places have advantages and a media presence,” he said, also noting that Cincinnati is a nationally ranked product right now and Houston has a long football history.
He certainly doesn’t believe these teams should be overlooked.
“We built this place, even before we got in the league, people thought we couldn’t play football, but that’s just not true. Just becaause they are not in a Power 5 conference doesn’t mean they are not a Power 5 team.,” Patterson said.
What’s more, he believes their adjustment will be easier now that the conference is going to split into two six-team divisions.
“You won’t have to play a round robin. You don’t have to play everyone in the league and may have more non-conference games and get a couple of crossover games. It’s a difficult situation when you have to play everybody and don’t get any off weeks,” Patterson said.
But all that is down the road and could make the Big 12 a more intriguiing league than it was, although it doesn’t get muich more intriguing that going into a conference schedule with Oklahoma after battling rival Virginia Tech.
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