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West Virginia Football: A Smoking Musket Roundtable Discussion

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Four friends entered a dimly lit, seedy underground apartment to discuss the Mountaineers.

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks for joining me today in this first edition of the Smoking Musket Roundtable. I brought appletinis because Smitty told me that if I brought more shenanigans there would be a pistol whipping.

Super Troopers Shenanigans

I was also able to drag our very own Abpriddy away from his gig over at TheSignalCaller.com where he still writes the Mountaineer Retweet. He got Brad Paisley to drop him off but I think I scared Brad away. Also joining me is John Radcliff. John has been nice enough to not say mean things about me on Twitter! Onto the questions....

WVU just gained their first win in 46 days with the 31-26 victory over Texas Tech. Did the win over TTU restore your faith in the team after the brutal October or was this win just a mirage?

SmithFire13 - Ahh, appletinis. I know a guy who paid $100 for one appletini that was, "frankly, light on the tini."

Easy on the Tini

You know what else is light on the tini? Texas Tech's run defense.... it is atrocious. The Red Raiders averaged giving up 270.6 yards before Saturday which put them in the 120s nationally in rushing defense. WVU getting 300 yards on the ground is a good sign, but Kansas is the only team left on the schedule that is in that neighborhood for stopping the run. Getting a win has to be invaluable to this team's morale, but with the way this passing attack is still struggling, this one-dimensional Mountaineer squad aren't out of the woods quite yet.

Abpriddy - Good to be back, I miss you fellars. I'm going to try to stop by more often.

On the surface this wasn’t a great win. The numbers (points, rush yards, defense) were OK but given the competition not wholly impressive (although holding a TT team that was averaging over 45 ppg under 30 was meaningful). We still saw some of the execution problems and inconsistencies that have plagued this team all year. But it was a win, and when you’re talking about a team that just went through the month this one did, the importance of simply increasing the number in the left column cannot be overstated. The hurdle had become largely mental. Now you’ve set the stage for a potential run to end the season that will go a long way towards soothing the fan sentiments that have been stoked red hot in the month of October.

JohnRadcliff - It's probably too soon to say. You could look back at this game at the end of the year and say this is where the team got its confidence back. Or if things go sour, you could say it was just a blip on the radar. I was probably a little too optimistic at the beginning of the year about what our offense could be. Sure, there's talent there. But there isn't a lot of consistency. You see it in the shuffling of the offensive line and wide receiver starters. You can't have that and a nine win season in the Big 12.

What we do have is a good-to-great defense. They've been put in a lot of bad positions and for the most part they've held up. Considering the injuries, they've played remarkably well. I haven't lost my faith. But it was certainly boosted by seeing the way the team played against Texas Tech. They got up off the mat. That's the first step.

What has been the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment of the 2015 season?

Abpriddy - The receiving corps has been the biggest disappointment within the season. After that first month, everyone emerged thinking "well no matter what happens we’ve got the WR position set." But Jovon Durante and Shelton Gibson have regressed as the season has gone on to the point that by the TCU game they were a real weakness. Whether or not the rise of Ka’Raun White is for real will be something that will help, but on October 1st I don’t think anyone thought we’d need the contributions we’ve gotten from WRs who started the season down the depth chart - or not on the WR depth chart at all. Skyler Howard has been the popular whipping boy, but the biggest issue for the last few games without a doubt has been the lack of help by the front line WRs - both dropping balls and doing a poor job of blocking.

As a quick aside to that contributions from Daikiel Shorts and Jordan Thompson have been minimal. A big part of that is WVU’s severe dial-back of the underneath passing game, but those two are going to need to do something if this team is going to finish strong.

JohnRadcliff - It shouldn't be a surprise, given the depth that has been accumulated but I'm surprised at how well the defense has done give the injuries and bad field position they've been put in. Biggest disappointment has been the dropped passes. Not everything is on the receivers or on Howard. It's a shared responsibility. It's just disappointing because I think one or two of the losses are wins (or at least respectable) if we catch the ball.

Disappointment 1a. - My total lack of GIFs this season.

SmithFire13 - I, too, am disappointed in your lack of gifs this season, John.

Not Angry, Disappointed

One thing that needs to be mentioned as disappointing has been the field goal kicking. Perhaps it was unrealistic for Josh Lambert to continue to destroy everything but, the two 35-yarders he has missed are uncharacteristic. There are plenty of other things you could mention as disappointing so far, but this one has been concerned. These are real points WVU is missing out on and this offense could use all the help it can get.

My surprise would be that the WVU faithful came out in numbers on Saturday amidst a four game losing streak.

Of course, admission numbers are always sketchy, but that number seems right from where I was sitting. Perhaps I should know better than to doubt the fan base, but I don’t know many teams that would have support like that after that grueling October. Good on you, folks.

John Radcliff - We’re looking at you, Maryland.

WVUNite - I was once in Heinz Field on a random Wednesday when no one was in the stadium and thought to myself "So this is what it's like to be on the Pitt Football team"

Don Nehlen is on record as saying that the current schedules are much tougher than what we used to play, including when we were in the Big East, where we had between 8 and 9 winsguaranteed a year. Nehlen thinks scheduling tough OOC games is a mistake. Is he right and who would you like to see WVU play in Out of Conference games?

SmithFire13 - Coach Nehlen is absolutely right that this job has changed. West Virginia had an outside, yet decent, chance of making and winning the national championship with the Big East/BCS model. Now, with a tough conference slate and the CFP committee sending messages loud and clear to ADs (specifically Ian McCaw) about a scheduling P5 teams, that road is drastically more difficult. Mike Casazza and I discussed thison the podcast a few weeks back. It really all depends on what your goal is for the program. What should West Virginia strive for in the Big XII? WVU is not a college football blue blood that lives by "championship or bust" every year. A manageable annual goal for the program would probably be 8-9 wins with the occasional double digit-win season could work, but that might even be ambitious. The truth is that victories is the only currency you have in this college football landscape and no one cares where they come from if you are outside of the Top 4. I hate to say it because big time non-conference games are always a blast, but I think Coach Nehlen has a point.

Abpriddy - I’m of the age where Don Nehlen put WVU football on the map during my formative years. I’ll never say a bad word about the man and I completely see his point here, but the irony is the schedules he faced in the 80s and 90s with their Penn States, Miamis and at-times-dominant Syracuses looked a lot more like what we see today than the cupcake tray his successors saw in the revamped Big East. Having said that WVU’s unique geographic position necessitates meaningful OOC games against the VTs, Pitts and Penn States of the world. College football is a sport rooted in history and you ignore your father’s rivalries at your own peril. But I think it’s fair to schedule one of those a year and still compete against the standard slate of Big 12 squads.

Also don’t get too caught up in the present. Baylor hasn’t been a historically powerful program. Same for TCU and Kansas State. Bill Snyder is a fantastic human being but he’s been a fantastic human being for a long time - does anyone think that KState will keep on rolling after he retires? There will be a lot of job openings this season - could someone back the money truck up in front of Gary Patterson’s house? Point being the conference is at a high water mark for strength, schedules are made years in advance and you don’t want to put yourself in the position to pay the price for low SOS (cough - Baylor - cough) because of short-sighted scheduling concerns. WVU needs to just keep doing what they’re doing in my opinion.

John Radcliff - He's right and wrong. Miami, VT, BC, and Syracuse were consistently nationally ranked teams back in the early days of the Big East, and I guess you could throw Pitt in there from time to time. After Miami and VT left, the conference was a shell of it's former self. So it depends on which Big East you're talking about. His point is valid, though. From 2003 on, there were a lot of gimme games on the schedule. You can't really say that now. Kansas and ISU are going through tough times, but you really shouldn't sleep on them.

If we were Ohio State or one of the other big boys, we might get a pass on our OOC. But we aren't. It would be a shame to go undefeated or be a one loss team that doesn't get the nod because we didn't play anyone out of conference. I love Don Nehlen and the point he was making in the speech, but we need to have a P5 school on our OOC. So let's don't shoot for Alabama and Ohio State. But teams like Pitt, VT, Penn State aren't so good that we have no chance. But they are good enough that we don't look like we're playing the sisters of the poor.

Who do you expect to win the conference and will that winner be in the College Football Playoffs?

SmithFire13 - With Josh Doctson out for the time being, that kind of evens out the whole Jarrett Stidham thing for me. I still don’t know if Oklahoma State is a balanced enough team to win out, but their schedule is soooo beneficial compared to the others. I think the winner of the Oklahoma @ Baylor game this weekend will prove to be the conference champion. That being said, I think Clemson might just do the damn thing this year regardless of who they match up with.

Abpriddy - Smart money says Baylor, but boy Oklahoma looks good and Oklahoma State is living right, looking a lot like their fortuitous 2011 selves. I think TCU is poised to fall off a cliff and may drop 2 more games. I still can’t completely get behind Baylor so I’m going to say that the winner of Bedlam in Stillwater gets the glass salad bowl and also a trip to the playoff. SEC will get 1 team in at best and so will the B1G, so if you give Clemson a spot (and honestly, tell me them flopping in the finale against South Carolina wouldn’t be the most Clempsun thing ever) that leaves one spot for one of the Big 12 champ, the PAC 12 champ or That School in South Bend. To me a Big 12 champ, even one with a single loss, would look the best of that trio.

JohnRadcliff - Welp, Baylor and Oklahoma State may have a problem because of their OOC. If TCU or Oklahoma wins out, they at least have a P5 win on their schedule. At this point, you could make a case for any of the above four teams to win the conference. I think Oklahoma has the best chance to get in, though. At this point in the season, they are trending up in the manner in which they are winning. But man, it would be a lot better if they didn't have that loss to Texas.