Dana Holgorsen knew West Virginia was heading into the deep end of the swimming pool when the Mountaineers made the switch to the Big 12 Conference this year.
He has talked repeatedly about everyone involved in the program needing to understand what it’s going to take to compete in a conference that has nine of its 10 members bowl eligible and seven of the 10 ranked among the nation’s top 30 in this week’s Sagarin ratings.
On his Big 12 coaches’ teleconference Monday morning, Holgorsen was asked once more to talk about how competitive the conference has been this year.
“We have nine teams that are bowl eligible, eight of the nine have been ranked at one point during the season, and it’s probably only a matter of time before (one-win) Kansas gets to the point like everyone else due to the fact that they’ve got great coaches and they’re able to recruit some top-notch players from across the country,” he said.
According to Sagarin, West Virginia’s strength of schedule this year is rated the 12th-toughest in the country. That is easily the most challenging slate
the 6-5 Mountaineers have played in the last 15 years. In fact, its current Sagarin rating of 31 is only nine spots lower than last year’s ranking of 22 when the Mountaineers won 10 games and defeated Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Sagarin rated West Virginia’s strength of schedule 57th last season, a three-spot improvement from 2010 when it was ranked 60th.
Actually, since the Big East began losing the core of its membership in 2004, the Mountaineers have consistently played football schedules rated in the mid-40s and worse.
In 2005, when WVU went undefeated in Big East play and upset Georgia in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, the Mountaineers played the 63rd-toughest slate in the country.
A year later, in 2006, when the Mountaineers finished in the Top 10 for a second straight year and defeated ACC champ Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl, Sagarin gave West Virginia’s schedule a ranking of 37th, which was one of the tougher schedules the Mountaineers have faced in the last 10 years.
In 2007, when West Virginia won another Big East title and defeated Oklahoma in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Mountaineers had the 40th-toughest football schedule in the nation, facing three top 30 teams that season.
In the last 15 years, the most difficult go of it for West Virginia came during Don Nehlen’s final campaign on the sidelines in 2000 when he faced the 19th-toughest schedule in the country. The Mountaineers that year played No. 2-ranked Miami, sixth-rated Virginia Tech and 15th-ranked Notre Dame, in addition to games against Syracuse, Boston College, East Carolina and Pitt – all teams with winning records.
But Sagarin had that schedule rated seven spots lower than this year’s docket featuring seventh-ranked Kansas State, 12th-ranked Oklahoma, 23rd-ranked Texas, 24th-ranked Oklahoma State and five other opponents with at least six victories.
Sagarin has nine of the 10 teams in the Big 12 rated 38th or higher this week.
“It’s a tough league,” said Holgorsen. “Each and every week the same thing happens, it doesn’t matter who is playing who, it’s going to be a battle.”
Incidentally, Sagarin doesn’t have a single team from the conference West Virginia recently departed in his top 40 this week. Rutgers is tops among current Big East members at No. 44 to go along with the nation’s 92nd-rated schedule; Cincinnati is a spot behind the Scarlet Knights at 45th with a schedule rated the 98th-most difficult in the nation while Louisville, which can win a share of the Big East title this Thursday night at Rutgers, is rated 57th overall with a strength of schedule of 102.
Syracuse, rated 51st this week, is the only Big East team Sagarin has with a schedule ranked in his top 45 (43rd).
And that’s likely why Holgorsen keeps saying it’s going to take some time for everyone involved with the program to fully comprehend what the Big 12 is all about on a weekly basis.
“I’m talking from a players standpoint, from an administration standpoint and a fan-base standpoint,” Holgorsen said. “It’s going to take some time for the rest of the league to understand what West Virginia is all about, too. That’s just part of the process.”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.