About this time every week, I roll out a tongue-in-cheek post about how such and such Big XII team hasn't beat WVU in decades, do a little recap about the one time the Mountaineers have played that team, talk a little smack, and then predict a WVU victory. Well, this week I'm taking a little different approach. Oh, I'm still predicting that the Mountaineers will win, but we'll get to that part later. But I am going to eschew the traditional recap of previous meetings and the sarcastic boasts about our scores of dominance. This game deserves better.
From the day the schedules came out, pretty much every Mountaineer fan circled November 17 on their calendar as the game of the year. Hotel rooms booked up. People scoured the day's matchups to see whether ESPN College GameDay might make its second ever trip to Morgantown. Pundits around the country called Saturday's matchup of the Mountaineers and Sooners as the de-facto Big XII championship game. At one point, I dubbed the game as potentially the biggest regular season contest in WVU history. It was hard to understate the excitement about November 17.
I don't think anyone reading this space needs me to remind them of everything that has happened since then. But see, here is why WVU owes Oklahoma: if there is anything West Virginia does well, it's to rally in the face of adversity. And somehow, more than any other program (okay, just twice, but stick with me here), Oklahoma has provided the rallying cry.
Oh sure, the Sooners aren't the anti-WVU. That title would probably fall to Ohio State, or Notre Dame, or even Pitt. But as the 6th winningest program in college football history and claimants of 7 national titles, I think it's safe to say they represent the establishment. They are what West Virginia aspires to be. And for the third time in three decades, the Mountaineers have an opportunity to notch another crack in the wall that separates them from the "haves" of college football by beating Oklahoma.
The first win came on the opening weekend of the 1982 season, when a program fighting for respect under third year coach Don Nehlen went into Norman and knocked off the 9th ranked Sooners 41-27. That win propelled the Mountaineers to a 9-2 regular season featuring losses only to #2 Pitt and #9 Penn State. For the first time in a long time, WVU was ranked throughout the season, and that win helped establish WVU as a national team, no longer confined to its Eastern roots.
[Cool game story from Oklahoma perspective available here.]
Being little more than a year old, I didn't know just what that win would mean for West Virginia. But looking back, the credibility it gave Don Nehlen and the Mountaineers across the country was the first of many building blocks to the program that WVU is today.
West Virginia's second-ever victory over Oklahoma is probably the most emotional game I've ever seen in my 31 years as a Mountaineer fan. The program was at a crossroads, having blown a game at home as a 28 point favorite over its most hated rival to forfeit a surefire spot in a national championship game that it probably would have won. Its beloved coach, an offensive guru from nearby Grant Town, who had played under Nehlen, just left to take a job as the head coach of college football's winningest program. Everyone in the country (okay, 84%) predicted that WVU would lose to the Sooners in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. By all accounts, WVU was in the midst of perhaps the darkest time in its history. But, we all know how that turned out:
Even though the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium may not have reflected it, the Mountaineer fan base truly rallied behind the team in the midst of disappointment and uncertainty. We as fans promised we would never leave the players or the university we loved so dearly. And that belief, as well as the belief of Pat White, Owen Schmitt, Eric Wicks, and the rest of the players led by a certain coach who bled Old Gold and Blue and urged his players to "Leave No Doubt," inspired one of the greatest wins in WVU history.
Today, we are again faced with adversity. Perhaps not of the same kind as 1982 or 2007, but nonetheless, we are faced with a challenge: the challenge of doubt. From the media, from the fans, and perhaps even from those among the program. But we are also faced with an opportunity. An opportunity to announce on national television, against one of college football's most storied programs, that WVU is still a player on the national scene. That though we have stumbled, we have not fallen. That though we have lost, we have not given in. That though we face fear, we do not shirk. West Virginians have shown their resolve in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as they have done countless times before. WVU fans have shown their resolve, as they have stood by their beloved team through win and through loss so many times before. And the Mountaineers too will show their resolve, as they did by beating Oklahoma in 2007 and 1982 before. It's just what West Virginia does.