Justin K. Aller
This isn't the first WVU team to follow a hot start with a skid - let's look at how some others have fared.
Staring straight into the longest losing streak to hit the West Virginia hills in 8 years, the panic among Mountaineer fans is as high as we've seen it for years. It's a stretch of futility not seen for awhile in Morgantown, but that doesn't mean we haven't been here before. Fact is the 'Eers have hit the skids plenty of times, so perhaps a look back over our collective shoulders down memory lane will put some minds at east - or maybe not.
Coming off a magical 11-0 1993 regular season when everything went right, everything quickly went wrong for the Mountaineers when defensive backbroke his arm in the pre-game tunnel before the opening game even kicked off. It was a sign of things to come. WVU was run out of the Meadowlands stadium by eventual national champion Nebraska, 31-0. An ugly 2 point win against Ball State was followed by losses to Rutgers, Maryland and Virginia Tech. After hitting rock bottom in Blacksburg though, WVU righted the ship as they surged to 6 wins in the last 7 games including a thrilling last second win in Pittsburgh. A 7-5 regular season was enough to get them to the Carquest Bowl.
One of the all-time great defenses in WVU history had the misfortune of being paired with one of the all-time toothless offenses. Things held together with spit and scotch tape for a 7-0 start that included wins by scores of 10-9, and 13-0. But disaster struck on a rainy October evening in the person of Tremain Mack - and we'll just leave it at that. If you're too young to remember what happened, Google it. The next week was one of the all-time "get beat twice by one team" efforts against Syracuse and the reeling club finished 8-4. This one honestly worries me the most because it reminds me so much of this 2012 team. Imbalanced & full of problems that bubbled just below the surface until they finally surfaced and scuttled the whole thing. Having said that I'd kill for 8-4 right now.
After the resurgent 2002 season, WVU fans entered 2003 with optimism that had been missing for awhile, but a tough loss to Wisconsin kicked off 1-4 start that should have stifled any thoughts of a big year. But one of the most dramatic turnarounds in WVU history followed in the form of a 7 game win streak highlighted by a 28-7 route of then #3 Virginia Tech and a 52-31 thrashing of Pitt. By the end of the year the 'Eers were playing as well as anyone in America and even found themselves challenging for the Big East BCS spot. While that didn't materialize, they did manage the first in a line of three straight a co-conference or conference titles. It was a good year that set the stage for...
The other year that reminds me of 2012. High hopes and a favorable early schedule highlighted by a win against an overrated foe (Maryland) quickly gave way to reality - sound familiar? An 8-1 record fizzled out in a 2 game skid with losses to Boston College and a horrible Pitt team as the behavior of guys like Pacman Jones, Kay-Jay Harris and the late Chris Henry created enough distraction to offset their formidable talent. The result was an unfocused and inconsistent team that fell wildly short of expectations, losing out on the conference BCS slot in the last week of the season. If you ever want to shake your head, look at how many of these kids played on Sunday and then look at their 2004 record. Inexplicable.
A 5-1 start with the lone loss being a night game at LSU created buzz, but back-to-back losses to Syracuse and UConn quashed it just as fast. Those results triggered dramatic change behind the scenes - but there was change on the field as well. The Mountaineers put together what might have been the best 4 game streak of the Bill Stewart era, scoring at least 34 points in 3 of those efforts and running the table to clinch a share of the conference and finish one 50 yard UConn field goal out of the BCS spot. In a year that was often forgettable, Mountaineer fans will always "Remember November."
If you're reading this, you don't need me to tell you what happened in 2011. Uneven efforts early hit their nadir with a sloppy loss to Louisville. After that the Mountaineers got the most breaks of any team since 1993 and made a lot more with a collection of gutty efforts that carried them to the Orange Bowl. The rest is history.
Are there a lot of reason to feel confident heading into Stillwater? Maybe not, but it's a position that WVU has found itself in many times before and fought out of. Will this be 1994 or 1996? 2003 or 2004? The answer lies in the hearts of those young men at Boone Pickens Stadium this afternoon, but the best we can do is don our gold and blue, tune in, raise the battle flag and cross our fingers in the hope that this Mountaineer squad can navigate a difficult crossroads that has been in the path of so many teams before them. It's been done before, it can be done again.
There's a reason to believe.