|West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen says a lot of work has to be done between now and the beginning of player development season in January.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Well, the sun came out Sunday in Morgantown – if only briefly. But the clouds eventually moved in again, just the way clouds have begun to hover over the West Virginia football team after its 31-19 loss at Kansas last Saturday to drop its record to 4-7.
It was perhaps the most stinging defeat for the Mountaineers since they dropped a 17-14 decision to Temple back in 2001, which incidentally, was the last time WVU failed to win enough games to qualify for a bowl game.
West Virginia’s bowl streak, tied for the eighth longest in the country heading into this season, will end at 11 – blown away like all those leaves that were flying around on the field at Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“I really apologize to the 12 seniors not to get to the 13th game,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after the game. “We got beat on all three sides of the ball – got out-coached and got out-played.”
If you think back to that 2001 season, when West Virginia was playing in a conference very similar to the one the Mountaineers are involved with today in the Big 12, West Virginia that year was plagued by week-to-week inconsistency at the quarterback position, a smaller than usual senior class, serious depth issues on defense, an inability to stop the run, and, yes, a stinging loss to a conference bottom feeder.
For Holgorsen, this will be the first time in 14 years of involvement with an FBS program that he will not be coaching in a bowl game, which somebody pointed out to him during his postgame press conference on Saturday.
“I appreciate you reminding me of that,” he said glumly. “I guess in Year 14 this would be an all-time low.”
It’s clear that a lot of work has to be done on all fronts to get things righted once again – from the coaches and the players on the field to the support staff responsible for getting the players stronger and keeping them healthy, to the administrators selling the tickets, raising the money and promoting the team.
It’s an all-around, total team effort that, by the way, is also being undertaken at two other programs in the same boat as West Virginia – TCU and Utah.
When you take a deeper look at what West Virginia, TCU and Utah have achieved in the prior six/seven seasons before making the move to a much more competitive football league - and what they’ve done since making that move - it’s really telling.
Utah and TCU both ruled the roost in the Mountain West Conference for years, the Utes running the table in 2008 by winning all 13 games and finishing ranked No. 2 in the country that season and winning 74 percent of their games during a six-year span from 2005-2010 prior to joining the Pac 12.
TCU was even more impressive, winning 85.6 percent of its games during a seven-year period from 2005-2011, averaging more than 10 wins per season and posting three-straight top 10 finishes in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
West Virginia, which became the marquee team in the Big East Light after the departures of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, won 77.8 percent of its games from 2005-2011, posting three consecutive 11-win seasons and three top 10 finishes in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
West Virginia and TCU both finished the season ranked among the nation’s top 25 six times during a seven-year period, while Utah had a pair of top 25 finishes during the same span of time.
Now hit the fast forward button to today with all three programs having jumped into the deeper end of the pool: West Virginia is 11-13, TCU is 11-13, and Utah, which got a leg up on the other two with an extra season in the Pac 12, is now 17-18.
All three teams lost last Saturday, by the way.
And with Saturday’s defeats, TCU and WVU were eliminated from bowl contention; Utah will be home for the holidays if it losses one of its remaining two games against either Washington State or Colorado.
So, where does West Virginia go from here?
“We’ve got to evaluate where we’re at,” said Holgorsen. “We’ve got to continue program development.
“This program is not equipped right now to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12. If you look at how many freshmen are out there – and I’m not blaming anything on injuries, that’s just part of the game – but you’ve got to be able to have depth and in the Big 12, you’ve got to be able to handle a lot of snaps and you’ve got to be able to handle injuries. Right now we’re not where we need to be.”
West Virginia has two weeks to get ready for a 1-9 Iowa State team that will be seeking its first Big 12 win of the season this Saturday against one-win Kansas.
After that, WVU will take the month of December off before embarking upon the development season in January – which could be one of the most important off-seasons in recent memory considering the 2014 schedule awaiting the Mountaineers: Alabama, Maryland and Oklahoma all show up before the last weekend of September.
“We’ll get back to work quicker in January,” Holgorsen said. “I think whenever that first Monday is in January we’ll be working. We’ll be working before our kids report for the off-season, and, obviously, recruiting never ends.
“Maybe we’ll have a lot of coaches and players sitting at home over the holidays saying, ‘Boy, it looks like everybody on TV is having a good time going to a bowl game. It sure would be nice to do that.’ Well, what do you do? You work harder. You recruit better. You stay the course. You develop your players and you buy into what’s going on,” Holgorsen concluded.