In the massive debate over the quality of Bill Stewart's tenure through more than two seasons, we decided to analyze the completed seasons, game by game.
For the purposes of this debate, games will be classified by their degree of difficulty, which is my determination. For seasons past, I have the gift of hindsight to aid me, and I have tried to make the most fair judgment possible. After the degree of difficulty is determined, each game will be placed into one of five categories:
- Great win: includes games of difficulty rating 5 at home and 4 & 5 on the road.
- Good win: includes games of difficulty rating 4 at home and 3 on the road.
- Neutral: includes wins of 3 or lower at home, 2 or lower on the road, as well as losses of 4 & 5 on the road and 5 at home.
- Acceptable loss*: includes losses of 3 on the road and 4 at home.
- Bad losses: includes losses 2 or lower on the road and 3 or lower at home.
* Note: There is no such thing as a moral victory. It is not a "good" loss, simply because one does not exist for a team with national aspirations. It may be acceptable, but not good. Don't question me on this.
2008: (9-4 overall, 5-2 conference)
Game #1: WIN ... WVU 48 vs. Villanova 21 (degree of difficulty: 1): It was an OK -- not great, not awful -- start to the Bill Stewart era. Pat White set personal records for passing attempts, completions, and touchdowns, going 25-33 and 5 TDs. Of course, he averaged only 6.3 yards per completion, but Stewart had signaled his intention to diversify the offense with a great deal of authority. Probably above and beyond what was necessary, simply to make a point. And while Villanova is certainly not a bad FCS team (in fact, they would go on to win the National Championship in 2009), I can't in good conscience rank any FCS team above the loneliest number. So, it was a start, and no need to make judgments after just one game. Keep in mind, though, that this will be the last time you'll see West Virginia score more than 35 points in a game.
Game #2: LOSS ... WVU 3 @ East Carolina 24 (degree of difficulty: 3): This was an abject disaster. As the 8th ranked team -- a ranking that was overinflated it's beyond discussion -- the Mountaineers simply laid an egg in Greenville. ECU was a darling at the time, having beaten Virginia Tech the week before. Of course, they would go on to lose five games that season with defeats to NC State, Houston, UVA, Southern Miss, and Kentucky. While none of those were terrible losses, none were great (or even good) losses.
Game #3: LOSS ... WVU 14 @ Colorado 17 (OT) (degree of difficulty: 2): Yet another disaster. Colorado, a bad team, beats WVU in a game where the tape should be burned so that no one has to watch it again. Colorado finished 5-7 in 2008, their other wins coming against Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Kansas State, and Iowa State. The only reason it ranks above the lowest possible rating was that it was a midweek game, at altitude, on the road. Also, it featured quite a few troubling coaching decisions by Stewart, from clock management to playing for the tie in regulation and a field goal in overtime. It was the first time WVU had lost back-to-back road games since 2003.
Game #4: WIN ... WVU 27 vs. Marshall 3 (degree of difficulty: 2): Yes, a tougher game because of the in-state implications, but this Marshall team finished the season 4-8 overall. The Mountaineer defense was stout, but Cincinnati, UCF, Rice, and Tulsa would all score more than 30 against the Herd in the remaining schedule. In a growing trend, Noel Devine would not touch the ball much, only getting 14 carries and 3 catches out of the backfield.
Game #5: WIN ... WVU 24 vs. Rutgers 17 (degree of difficulty: 3): A tough game to rank, because Rutgers would enter Mountaineer Field at 1-3 with its only win against Morgan State. It would lose to Cincinnati the next week, then catch fire, winning the last seven games of the season, including a road win against a ranked Pitt team. At the time, though, the touchdown margin of victory was a great cause for concern, especially after the lackluster start to the season. Still, this was a decent win with the benefit of hindsight.
Game #6: WIN ... WVU 17 vs. Syracuse 6 (degree of difficulty: 1): Greg Robinson was balls deep in destroying the Syracuse program at this point, averaging over 21 points margin of defeat in going 3-9 on the season. Incidentally, West Virginia scored the fewest amount of points against the Orange of any of their opponents all season. Hell, even Northeastern (that's Northeastern, not Northwestern) scored 21 points in the Dome. And, if you remember, WVU had to rely on a 92 yard Noel Devine TD run in the 4th quarter to finally put this game away. Not a good showing.
Game #7: WIN ... WVU 34 vs. Auburn 17 (degree of difficulty: 3): Auburn wasn't the greatest team in the world, considering they went 5-7 that year, but it was still an SEC opponent and a convincing late win. Very late, indeed, with the Mountaineer trailing 17-10 at halftime. The second half was a beauty though, but one must consider that Auburn's wins came against Louisiana-Monroe, Tennessee-Martin, Southern Miss, Miss. State (in the 3-2 classic), and a very down Tennessee squad in Fulmer's last year.
Game #8: WIN ... WVU 35 @ UConn 13 (degree of difficulty: 3): This is another game where the game looked more difficult at the time than it really was. Usually, a win over a ranked team on the road would be a feather in your cap, but this UConn team would go on to lose five games in 2008, going 3-4 in the Big East. Hardly a juggernaut. Still, the Mountaineers put up 35 on the road, which is a very rare occurrence these days.
Game #9: LOSS ... WVU 23 vs. Cincinnati 26 (OT) (degree of difficulty: 4): While Cincinnati was unranked at the time, they would go on to win the Big East and go to the Orange Bowl, losing to Virginia Tech. Certainly, they were a very dangerous team, one that dominated WVU for most of the game. Of course, a furious rally in the last minutes would bring the Mountaineers to the brink of a victory, only to see the Mountaineers play rather conservatively and settle for a FG in overtime. Tony Pike threw a TD and the game was over. A tough loss, but one that was well within our grasp late.
Game #10: WIN ... WVU 35 @ Louisville 21 (degree of difficulty: 2): Just like Syracuse, Louisville was towards the bottom of the Big East, finishing 1-6 in conference. And while it was a road game, the Cardinals were generally awful under Kragthorpe. Still, the Mountaineers were tied 7-7 at half, and needed Pat White to break the NCAA QB rushing record to split the game open in the second half. Also, 35 points looks decent, but Louisville allowed an average of just under 30 points per game in 2008, so scoring shouldn't have been all too hard.
Game #11: LOSS ... WVU 15 @ Pitt 19 (degree of difficulty: 4): Pitt was always going to be a tough out in the Backyard Brawl. 2007 was enough to convince you of that. Ranked #25 at the time, they generally held WVU's offense to a standstill, as the Mountaineers would only compile 300 total yards. Not only that, but WVU led 15-7 into the fourth quarter, only to see LaSean McCoy run for two late TDs, the last one coming with just 52 seconds left in the game. On the second to last possession, with WVU holding a perilous 15-13 lead, the Mountaineers would run three straight times for a first down, only to have the play called back for holding. On 3rd-and-9, a Devine rush went nowhere, Pat McAfee punted, and Pitt drove straight down the field for the win. Also confusing was the use of timeouts on that last Pitt drive, as Stewart called two TOs early in a down series, only to see Pitt pickup a first down. If they had been saved, they could have used more judiciously.
Game #12: WIN ... WVU 13 vs. USF 7 (degree of difficulty: 3): The Pat White Out game. WVU wasn't losing this one.
Game #13: WIN ... WVU 31 vs. UNC 30 (degree of difficulty: 3): A very good win against a decent team. UNC had posted respectable numbers of 8-4 overall and 4-4 in conference. They had also rocked a ranked UConn team by 26, so you know they were dangerous. Still, losses to Maryland, NC State, and UVA simple can't allow me to rate this game any higher. Either way, it was an extremely entertaining game and one that should have provided Stew with a great deal of momentum into the off-season.
So, that's season #1 of the Bill Stewart era. The final count for 2008:
- Great win:NONE
Good win: @ UConn
Neutral: Villanova, Marshall, Rutgers, Syracuse, Auburn, @ Louisville, USF, UNC
Acceptable loss*: @ ECU, Cincinnati, @ Pitt,
Bad losses: @ Colorado
All told, many more games in the bottom half than in the top. Still, it was Stewart's first season, so some growing pains were expected. Of course, when you hire a coach from within the program to be a steward for the senior year of a great QB, you expect him to get more out of the team.
What are your thoughts on 2008? Have any specific memories (good or bad) on how the team -- and coaches, of course -- performed that year? Please let us know in the comments.
Also, be on the lookout for 2009, which should run tomorrow.