Tough Foes Now the Norm for WVU

  • By John Antonik
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  • October 29, 2013 11:00 AM
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West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he wants to see continual improvement from his young football team in all three phases over the remaining four regular season games.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The last year and a half has clearly been a challenge for the West Virginia football program. The Mountaineers are now 5-9 in Big 12 play since joining the conference in 2012 with WVU’s record slipping to 1-4 in league play this season following last Saturday’s 35-12 loss at Kansas State.
The transition to a much more competitive football conference has been frequently talked about around here since the jump was made to the Big 12 in the summer of 2012, but now it is becoming quite obvious to everyone involved with the program that a lot of work still remains on all fronts.
“We need a lot of things,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, now 20-14 in his third season at WVU. “The transition from the Big East to the Big 12 we knew was going to be challenging. The Big 12 obviously has some of the best ball that is going to be played across the country – top teams with facilities, players and all that stuff.
“All of that stuff has to improve on our end and there is only so much you can do in a day. Our focus right now is just trying to improve every week, which is challenging when you play good football teams,” he said.
Indeed, it has been a challenge.
West Virginia currently has the eighth-toughest football schedule in the country, according to the latest Sagarin ratings. After playing 3-5 TCU this week, West Virginia will face 5-2 Texas in Morgantown on Nov. 9 before wrapping up its regular season against a pair of sub-.500 teams in Kansas and Iowa State.
After the last two games against Kansas and Iowa State, West Virginia’s strength of schedule likely won’t remain in the top 15, but it should still be close to the top 25 – which will make it one of the most difficult schedules the Mountaineers have faced since Sagarin began using his mathematical formula to evaluate college football teams.
Since 1998, when USA Today first began publishing the Sagarin ratings in digital form, the toughest football schedule West Virginia has faced came during Don Nehlen’s final season in 2000 when his team went up against No. 2 Miami, No. 6 Virginia Tech, No. 15 Notre Dame and five other teams with six wins or more that season.
West Virginia’s strength of schedule in 2000 was rated the 19th toughest in the country, according to Sagarin.
Last year, during West Virginia’s inaugural season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers played the 29th toughest football schedule in the country, which represents the second toughest football slate the Mountaineers have faced in the last 15 years.
There were four nationally ranked teams on the Mountaineer football schedule in 2012, including a pair of 10-plus-win teams in Kansas State and Oklahoma. When you add Syracuse from the bowl game, there were nine teams that West Virginia faced last season with at least seven wins and the combined record of the Mountaineers’ 13 opponents in 2012 was 92-72 for a .561 winning percentage.
Since 1998, there have been only four other times that West Virginia has played a top-40-caliber football schedule in 2009 (31st), 2001 (35th), 2006 (37th) and 2007 (40th).
The combined record of the teams West Virginia faced in 2009 was 97-68 for a .587 winning percentage, with a pair of 10-plus-win teams in Cincinnati and Pitt that season.
In 2001, West Virginia faced a football slate that included top-ranked Miami, sixth-rated Virginia Tech and 14th-ranked Syracuse, as well as 10-2 Maryland, 8-4 Boston College and 7-5 Pitt.
In 2006, West Virginia went up against 12-win Louisville, 11-win Rutgers, nine-win Maryland and USF, and eight-win Cincinnati before facing Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
Now in the Big 12, West Virginia is facing teams like that on almost a weekly basis.
“I think it’s going to take a couple years for everyone to truly understand the magnitude of the Big 12 - our coaches and players included,” Holgorsen admitted.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this season has been the team’s inability to consistently get the football into the end zone. The Mountaineers’ offensive numbers are clearly down across the board – the most significant being points per game where West Virginia is presently averaging almost 17 points per game less than it did in 2012.
For a coach with a national reputation for scoring lots of points, it’s clearly been difficult for him to endure so far.
“It’s been challenging. I’ve never dealt with it before. I’ve never dealt with this many guys that are new,” admitted Holgorsen. “You’ve got new people at every single spot and a coaching staff that continues to learn how to coach together and game plan together and call plays and react to that together. I’m very pleased with how our coaching staff has bonded and worked together, but then there are still a lot of unknowns – three guys that have never coached in this offense before.”
What Holgorsen is seeking over the last four games of the regular season is continual improvement in all three phases of play. If that happens, then that's a good first step.
“We need to continue to coach them hard, which we are; our players need to continue to allow themselves to be coached. They are. We need to continue to develop young guys and recruit young guys who can come in and put winning football out there on the field,” said Holgorsen.

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