By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
September 28, 2012 08:19 AM
|Quarterback Geno Smith and his Mountaineer teammates are about to face one of the toughest schedules in school history.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Back in 1983, West Virginia’s football schedule was referred to as “Murderer’s Row.” And for good reason too. That year the Mountaineers had a six-game stretch from Sept. 17-Oct. 29 featuring three nationally ranked teams, including a matchup with eventual national champion Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Also that year were games against 17th-ranked Maryland and its outstanding quarterback Boomer Esiason, 19th-ranked Boston College and its brilliant quarterback Doug Flutie, Pitt (when the Panthers were still good), Virginia Tech (with defensive tackle Bruce Smith) and Penn State, followed by an after-dinner nightcap with quarterback Bernie Kosar and the seventh-ranked Hurricanes.
Yes, some pretty tough sledding there.
There have been other difficult schedules through the years as well.
In 1984, West Virginia went through the gauntlet with games against Virginia Tech, Maryland, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College, Penn State and Virginia in succession, and the Mountaineers paid the price for it at the end of the year when a fully depleted WVU team lost its final two regular season games against Rutgers and Temple.
In 1992, after “warming up” with Pitt, Maryland and Virginia Tech, West Virginia got into the meat of its schedule with four straight games against nationally ranked teams – 22nd-ranked Boston College, 14th-ranked Syracuse, 14th-ranked Penn State and top-ranked Miami – before finally getting a breather against East Carolina.
In 1994, the last time West Virginia faced five nationally ranked teams in a season, contests against fourth-ranked Nebraska (eventual national champion), 14th-ranked Virginia Tech, seventh-ranked Miami, 17th-ranked Boston College and 22nd-ranked Syracuse were at least spaced out over a fourth-month period.
The tough ones were also spaced out a little better for West Virginia in 1982 when it battled ninth-ranked Oklahoma, Maryland, second-ranked Pitt, 19th-ranked Boston College, Virginia Tech and ninth-ranked Penn State from early September to the end of October.
In between was a ho-hummer against I-AA Richmond.
Stepping way back into time, in 1959-60, West Virginia supplemented a notoriously weak Southern Conference schedule with some of the best programs college football had to offer at the time.
In 1959, after opening with Maryland, West Virginia took a break with games against Richmond, George Washington and Boston University before Coach Art Lewis went on his death march with consecutive matchups against 20th-ranked Pitt, sixth-ranked Syracuse, seventh-ranked Penn State and sixth-rated USC. It was the first time in school history that a West Virginia football team played four straight games against nationally ranked teams, which not coincidentally, was also Lewis’ last time coaching the Mountaineers.
A year later, in 1960, Lewis’ successor Gene Corum played games against Maryland, Virginia Tech, fourth-ranked Illinois, Pitt, Syracuse, Penn State and Oregon and the result was the only winless campaign in school annals.
More recently, West Virginia took on taxing football slates in 2001 and 2003 when the Big East Conference was still packing some punch. Coach Rich Rodriguez’s first Mountaineer team in ’01 played a schedule that featured 25th-ranked Maryland, sixth-ranked Virginia Tech, Notre Dame in South Bend, top-ranked Miami and 14th-ranked Syracuse in succession.
Two years later, in 2003, the docket included games against 21st-ranked Wisconsin, second-ranked Miami, third-ranked Virginia Tech and a Gator Bowl meeting against 23rd-ranked Maryland.
And while all of those schedules seem daunting, they pale in comparison to what Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers are about to face as new members of the Big 12 Conference.
“If you win your conference, especially the Big 12 Conference, then you go to a BCS game and there is potential for playing for a national championship,” Holgorsen said Tuesday.
Actually, there is a really, really good chance a Big 12 team will play for the national championship if it can get through the league unscathed. Of course that’s a very big if.
Beginning with Saturday’s game against 25th-ranked Baylor at Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia could conceivably play eight nationally ranked teams in successive weeks, ending with a Nov. 24 meeting against Iowa State (the Cyclones are one of nine Big 12 teams currently receiving votes in this week’s AP Top 25).
Following Baylor, West Virginia has road games against 12th-ranked Texas and Texas Tech (receiving votes) before returning home to face seventh-ranked Kansas State. Then comes 15th-ranked TCU to ring in November, followed by a road game at Oklahoma State (receiving votes) before West Virginia wraps up its tour of the Sooner State with a home game against 16th-ranked Oklahoma.
Then, Iowa State and Kansas arrive on the schedule to end the regular season. The Cyclones are 3-0 so far this year with wins over Tulsa, Iowa and Western Illinois, and outside of possibly Texas, they might have the best defense in the Big 12.
Kansas, though rebuilding under first-year coach Charlie Weis, is still nowhere close to what cellar-dwellers Temple and Rutgers were back in the 1990s when everybody in the Big East automatically counted two victories over them at the beginning of the season.
“The Big 12 is upon us, and the biggest questions are what are you going to do different?” Holgorsen said. “Well, we are really not going to do a whole lot different. I think over the course of time, West Virginia, our football team, and everyone else will get more familiar with the Big 12, and the Big 12 will get more familiar with West Virginia.
“But I think it’s going to take games for that to happen. This Saturday marks the first game that this is going to happen, and we are excited about it, and we are excited about the future of West Virginia football.”
Yes, Big 12 football is finally upon us, and it all starts on Saturday with Baylor.
Buckle up your seatbelts.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.
Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @John Antonik
West Virginia University Mountaineers
Big 12 football