On Friday, West Virginia Director of Athletics Oliver Luck did what he always does, spoke openly and candidly about the changing football landscape, particularly as it pertains to the future of WVU's football schedule. Brian Woodson of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph was there to capture the quotes and there were some interesting nuggets.
First of all this is far from the first (or even second) time Luck has commented in detail on the desire to play some old rivals. Last year, in the course of explaining that there were no plans to renew the series with the Marshall Thundering Herd anytime soon, Luck said "We have to get through that and see where we are with Pitt and Virginia Tech because I would argue they have a much longer history with us, with WVU, than Marshall."
He also touched on the topic briefly in July of 2012: "I have dialogue every now and then with Virginia Tech, just to see what's going on. There's nothing with Penn State. I do stay in touch with Steve Pederson at Pitt. But they are immersed in their lawsuit with the Big East, so there are no developments there. I think everybody's going to wait and see what the fine print is with the new playoff system. Is a tough schedule really going to be rewarded?"
So this is something that has been on Luck's mind for awhile. The only name we hadn't heard before was University of Virginia Cavaliers (WVU has only played them twice in the last 30 years or so) and I would wager that sometime in the next 5 years, we get an announcement of some sort involving one or more of these teams on the schedule.
There were several variables out there that I think Luck was waiting on before making any large decisions on the schedule - the two main ones being the makeup of the Big 12 (and thus how many conference games WVU would need to plan for) and the role that strength of schedule will play in determining which teams are selected for the College Football Playoff, coming in 2014.
The first of those was answered recently when the ACC announced the signing of a grant of rights that for all intents and purposes locked up their members from defecting to the Big 12. This in particular effected WVU as it eliminated the possibility of adding the University of Clemson or Florida State University and providing a potential rival in the same time zone.
The second variable is still an unknown, but we'll find out one way or another in the coming months. Regardless, I think it's a safe bet that having more quality on the schedule won't be a bad thing.
So here we are. Luck pretty plainly laid out the teams he'd like to see the Mountaineers play on some basis - almost certainly some sort of rotation instead of an annual series. So now that we know what he thinks, let's take a look at each and rank them according to desirability to renew the rivalry.
Note that these are just my personal thoughts - we'll be throwing it out to all of you with a poll at the end and it goes without saying that we want to find out what you have to say in the comments section.
Starting with the least desirable we have:
They can piss off as far as I'm concerned. I couldn't care less about playing them. Some of you may remember that when the two teams last played in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, the UVa pep band made such obnoxious work of their halftime "performance" - lampooning WVU fans with the standard unoriginal and tired collection of shoeless, overall wearing stereotypes - that they're no longer welcome by the university at sanctioned events.
Unfortunately for the silver spoons in Charlottesville, all the money in the world can't buy you class. Here's how a real band looks fellas:
Chances are if you're under 32 you couldn't care less about playing these guys and if you're over 32 you can't wait. If you're over 40 you'd probably trade your first-born for a renewal of the rivalry. This is an classic one for WVU fans as the Nittany Lions were the standard by which the Mountaineers measured themselves for many years, with WVU going from 1956 to 1983 without a victory in the series. I was at the final game between the two in 1992 and, given the gut wrenching loss by the 'eers (fumbled the go-ahead score at the 1 yard line in the fourth quarter) I'd love another shot. Before I die, I'd like to see WVU beat the Nittany Lions one last time - preferably in Happy Valley, PA, where WVU last won in 1954.
I know what you're thinking - "hey pal, I thought you were ranking these from least desirable to most, isn't it a no-brainer that The Backyard Brawl should be at the end?" For many fans probably, but the fact of the matter is the Mountaineer program passed the one up I-79 sometime in the mid to late 90s. Certainly there have been some brutal losses to the Panthers, most notably in 2004 and 2007, but by any objective standard WVU is a cut above Pitt and the rivalry lost a little of the juice when WVU pounded them regularly in the 90s and 2000s (we dropped at least 45 on Pitt 5 times since 1998). Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to start mixing it up with the Panthers again, but in my lifetime the Brawl always mattered a little less than games with.....
I hate the Hokies. You hate the Hokies. We all hate the Hokies. You know why? They're very similar to WVU, only with better timing and more a more fertile recruiting home turf. I had a very interesting conversation with WVU Radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning the other day and we were both surprised to find we valued the VT rivalry more than that with Pitt. In the search for a reason, we landed on the fact that the Hokie rivalry holds more power now because it grew so organically during the last quarter century. Think about it - VT's coming out party was when they shocked a top 10 Major Harris led WVU team at Mountaineer Field in 1989. They used that upset as a springboard, winning 10 of 13 in a series WVU had traditionally dominated (they entered that 1989 game with a 23-10-1 alltime advantage).
I've always been struck at the similar paths WVU and VT traveled, only those paths were separated by 7 or 8 years. Frank Beamer is VT's Don Nehlen and Major Harris was Michael Vick, only without Vick's fortunate timing to come along when ESPN's GameDay took the popularity of college football into the stratosphere. Plop the Major into 1999 and I'll guarantee you a few SI covers and a high draft position. I've always hated Tech because I saw them as a lucky version of WVU. They just came along at the right time.
Anyway, the way things ended in 2005 has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. If you'll remember WVU rallied after falling behind 10-0 early and was poised to get the ball down 3 with a few minutes left in the 1st half and with all the momentum in the world when Vaughn Rivers muffed a punt off his facemask. The Hokies quickly scored and WVU never recovered. It was the lone blemish on that spectacular 2005 season and I want revenge.
I also want that Black Diamond Trophy, dammit.
Give us your thoughts. Of the four teams above (or any others out there) who would you like to see WVU play in a non-conference series? Which rivalry do you think holds the most value for the Mountaineers or which team and fanbase plain pisses you off. It's the offseason, so put down that stupid baseball box score and give in to some old school rivalry hate.