Last week I wrote about nostalgia in my Things I Think and how it tends to cloud the memory of fans. There is currently a lot of turmoil among the internet fans. Many view Dana as someone unable to make the proper adjustments and necessary decisions to get West Virginia to the top of the Big 12. But just how hard is the road to the top of the Big 12?
Every year that WVU has been a member of the Big 12, they have faced at least 4 ranked teams. Three of the four years (2012, 2014, 2015) they have faced a top 5 program.
Lets go through some history
1981 Season: - Faced #4 Pittsburgh & #1 Penn State. Lost both games a combined 47-7. They were the only two ranked teams we played. Faced Pitt, then unranked VT, then PSU.
1982 Season - Faced #9 Oklahoma, #2 Pitt, #19 BC, #9 PSU. We went 2-2 in those games. OU started the season off. We faced Pitt, BC, VT PSU. 3 ranked games out of a 4 game stretch.
1992 Season - The only other time in the last 35 years we have faced 4 nationally ranked teams in a row. Boston College (#22), Virginia Tech (#14), Penn State (#14) Miami (#1). We lost to VT, PSU, Miami and tied Boston College. The Boston College game is significant in that it is the last time WVU ever tied a game. In 1995 the NCAA changed the rules to overtime and we now will never see a tied game in college ever again. (Side note: Hey NFL, this is how it is done....)
In the years from 1980 - 2011 when WVU played at least 4 ranked teams prior to the bowl game, here is their season record:
1982 - 9-2
1992 - 4-4-2
1994 - 7-5
2001 - 3-8
2002 - 9-3
2003 - 8-4
2007 - 10-2
7 seasons out of 30. 23% of the time before joining the Big 12 did WVU play at least 4 ranked teams prior to their bowl game. Since joining the Big 12, they have always played 4 ranked teams.
The road to a Big 12 title is a hard one. Not only does a blue blood of college football, Oklahoma, continually reload and put a talented squad together but a previous doormat is experiencing a resurgence unseen ever in the Big 12. The work that Art Briles has done in Waco is truly remarkable. Add in the amazing Treyvon Boykin and you have TCU being a top 5 program.
Then you have the tier 2 programs, which WVU is a part of. Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and WVU are all programs which have the ability and the skill, with a bit of luck from the scheduling committee and lots of luck on the field, to produce a 9, 10, 11 win season.
Included in all of this discussion is the scheduling impact of the Big 12. The round robin schedule format presents a very unique challenge to teams. There is no ability to miss a team in a given year. Look at Northwestern this year. They beat Stanford at the beginning of the year. They just lost back to back games against Michigan and Iowa but the rest of the year their schedule does not include: Michigan State or Ohio State. And even better argument can be made for Iowa. They played Wisconsin and Northwestern. They do not play: Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan this year.
The SEC is another conference where the schedule often dictates who will be in their championship game. Georgia has two ranked teams on its schedule this year. Florida (a surprise!) and Alabama. They do not play LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas A&M. Many times with a divisional conference, you can look at who you don't play to figure out how good you will be that year.
Those points are made to show that playing in a league where consistently 4-6 teams are ranked yearly and you are required to play every one of those teams is an amazingly difficult slog. If the Big 12 were to expand to 12 teams to create a championship game, there could be years where WVU is blessed by the scheduling gods.
If WVU were able to replace one of those 4 ranked teams with a middle of the road Non Power 5 team, you could add a single win to the resume every year. Replace another ranked team with a middle of the road conference opponent like Maryland, Rutgers, Kentucky, Vanderbilt etc and WVU could easily be talking about records of 9-3, 6-6, 9-3 over the past three years.
The Big 12 is an amazingly tough conference and don't be surprised if it is the conference to first put two teams in the 4 team playoffs and has a team crowned national champs at the end of the year.