Bobby Bowden

In this file photo, then-West Virginia University Bobby Bowden sits atop his players shoulders after a victory.

MORGANTOWN — It was midday Thursday when the hammer fell on all our heads and drove the nail of reality into our consciousness.

This was going to be no ordinary football season.

Oh, we all knew it, but accepting what we knew was difficult until the Big Ten stunned the whole college football world announcing it would play no non-conference games this season. The Pac-12 quickly followed suit and it’s expected the ACC will be next, saying it will decide in the near future.

The SEC?

That conference lives in a football world of its own, so if it goes along with the idea, rest assured the Big 12 will, too. Just expect the Big 12 to do what the ACC does.

The Big 12, right now, is debating the issue, being sort of the odd-league out in many ways, including being just a 10-team league which means it plays each team in its conference every year, adds three non-conference games and championship game that was virtually forced upon it to ensure it would have an equal chance to make the college playoff’s four-team setup.

All of this, of course, leaves West Virginia looking at a major hole this year in its scheduling.

WVU has made a point of emphasizing its non-conference games, trying to schedule a neutral site, nationally televised encounter, an area rival and a non-Power 5 conference opponent, but even there, they have tried to land powers from the FCS.

The Big Ten’s decision cost WVU its regional matchup with one-time traditional rival Maryland, a rivalry that may not quite equal Pitt and Virginia Tech, but has its own place in WVU lore.

And now, with the ACC seemingly ready to pull the plug on non-conference games, this year’s feature non-conference game to be played in Atlanta against Florida State — a traditional national power that has strong ties to WVU having been coached by former Mountaineer coach Bobby Bowden and Clarksburg’s Jimbo Fisher — that was to open the season on Sept. 5.

If that game goes, it hardly matters if Big 12 opts to go without non-conference games, as Eastern Kentucky is the other non-conference game.

Unless …

If the Big 12 says go ahead, try to fill your non-conference schedule out, West Virginia would be quick to jump and do just that.

See, the COVID-19 pandemic has them having sold only about 16,000 season tickets, down about 50%, and they right now are leaning toward only allowing 50% capacity in Mountaineer Field, which breaks down with say 16,000 season tickets, 6,000 student tickets, family and friends of staff and players and maybe some day of game sales.

Three non-conference games would help and there are options as a number of schools have lost games with the Big Ten and Pac-12 and probably will lose more with the ACC.

The most obvious opponent is someone close by that has a decent football history, a West Virginia tie in former coach Terry Bowden. Bowden, the son of Bobby Bowden, coached at Akron from 2011 through 2018.

It’s a bus ride for Akron and WVU’s athletic ties to Ohio are strong through Bob Huggins.

More important, though, is filling in that big time national game. Over the years, WVU has earned its reputation with such games … playing in recent years Alabama, LSU, Auburn and BYU.

Now the restriction on non-conference games from big time conferences limits the choices, but with some slick scheduling Shane Lyons possibly could work in a game against Air Force, BYU or Texas A&M.

Kentucky also lost a game and would fulfill so many requirements of being a big game that we would hope that Lyons has already made a call, trying to line that one up.

In truth, while Louisville is always a better and more bitter rivalry for Kentucky, WVU can’t be far behind, especially now with former Kentucky player and Kentucky native Neal Brown running the football program.

Add it to the friendly rivalry Huggins has with John Calipari in basketball and this could actually open up a channel to set up long-term contract to play home-and-home with UK.

One can only drool over a schedule that would include Pitt, Penn State and Maryland alternating with Kentucky a yearly fixture and then a MAC or FCS opponent … or if they want to go for the gas, one of those pre-season national, neutral site games.

But first, of course, we have to get through the season from hell that hasn’t even started yet and may or may not be played.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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