1. I think despite the Big 12's attempt, that wasn't a rivalry game
I want to commend Oliver Luck and Shane Lyons for scheduling regional rivals as part of future schedules. The upcoming series between Virginia Tech, Penn State, and Pittsburgh are all fantastic endeavors. I also commend the Big 12 for at least trying to make the WVU-ISU game a rivalry. Despite the best efforts of those involved, not having a true rival this week is absolutely awful for the team.
I flew down to see the Ole Miss-LSU game last weekend. It reminded me that an integral part of college football is that born hatred of a team. I have plenty of friends who are LSU fans. I like them. But for three hours on Saturday, there was unbridled dislike. The combined passion of a fan base was exhilarating.
I'm not sure WVU will ever develop a rivalry with ISU. The guys who run Wide Right Natty Lite are some of the most down to earth men you will meet. If they showed up at your house and screamed Let's Go Mountaineers you'd never think twice about them. If I can offer a piece of advice to Athletic Director Lyons and Pitt AD Scott Barnes it would be to do everything possible to make the Backyard Brawl on a Saturday during Thanksgiving. Fans of both schools need a late November game to feel passion for. If the SEC and ACC can schedule their cross conference rivalries (Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville) then Pitt and WVU can play Thanksgiving weekend.
2. I think I'm impressed by Noble Nwachukwu, Shelton Gibson & Daryl Worley
The past three weeks I meant to include a tidbit about Noble but had other points I wanted to make. After watching the game this week, I noticed I just kept noticing Noble. He already has 10 tackles for loss this season after collecting 9 during his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Every time a team started to put a drive together, Noble was there to flush a quarterback out the pocket, seal the edge on what could have been a big run or stop a running back in the backfield. Noble has turned himself into a heck of a player and I'm excited about him during his senior year.
Shelton Gibson finally broke out of his mid season slump and showed some moves during the ISU game. He even had a nice kick return and caught a very nice deep ball. Despite all of that production, Gibson still doesn't strike me as a true #1 receiver. He reminds me of Mario Alford last year, playing 1A to Kevin White's #1. Gibson is capable of blowing the top off a defense but I think he needs to get stronger during the point of attack on a football. A lot of the 50/50 balls this year he has allowed a defense to take from him.
Darryl Worley has had an up and down campaign this year but he has really turned it on since the loss of Karl Joseph. Think about this season and think about this defense. We aren't saying "If we only had Karl in the backfield". In all honesty, we haven't missed Karl that much. His presence and spirit, yes but his production has been buoyed by the rest of the defense. Daryl is even tied for the team lead, with Karl, in interceptions. I think an even bigger statement about Worley is that he gave up his starting spot to Rick Rumph for this game, for senior day. I believe that speaks volumes about his character.
3. I think UCLA or Tennessee are the best opponents for a bowl game
What now? Let's acknowledge Oklahoma's the Big 12 champion and almost assuredly in the College Football playoff,and let's assume Baylor beats Texas Saturday. I think Baylor will go to the Sugar Bowl after the Big 12's convoluted tiebreaker distinguishes the Bears as the second-place team above Oklahoma State and TCU. I can't see the rest of the CFP + 4 taking another Big 12 team.
I believe then that the Alamo Bowl will take TCU, the Russell Athletic will take Oklahoma State and the Texas will take Texas Tech. If WVU beats Kansas State next week and the Wildcats finish 5-7, the Mountaineers can't fall past the Liberty because the Big 12 will only have six bowl eligible teams. If Kansas State wins, I have to think the Liberty takes the Wildcats over WVU and the Mountaineers end up in the Cactus, and UCLA's loss to USC last night makes the Bruins perhaps unexpectedly available there.
Tennessee is an above average SEC team who runs the ball quite a bit and doesn't pass it particularly well. UCLA is a pass happy team who doesn't run the ball particularly well. Both are more one-dimensional teams. The 3-3-5 defense is a tough defense to prepare for and I fully expect Tony Gibson to put the 20 seniors in position to leave WVU with a bowl win.
4. I think the Big 12 is celebrating not having a title game
Last year, the Big 12 was one week away from putting two teams into the initial 4-team playoff field. After Ohio State blew out Wisconsin and Oregon blew out Arizona in their respective championship games, the playoff committee used those extra data points to remove the co-champions of the Big 12. This year, with Oklahoma as the clear champion, the Big 12's model of a round-robin conference schedule and no title game means Oklahoma is set in the playoff field. Now Alabama and Clemson have to play another game where the chance of an upset means they could be left out of the playoff field. Michigan State and Iowa play in a de-facto play-in game. The winner is in the playoffs while the loser is likely slated for the New Years Six. The inclusion of Oklahoma in the playoffs means the Big 12 likely isn't expanding and may not choose to seek a championship game. Why should the Big 12 risk losing a place in the final 4 teams when the current model gets them in?
5. I think the 2016 schedule sets up nicely for the Mountaineers
2016 is the reason WVU switched to the Big 12. Next year, the Mountaineers will welcome Missouri, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor to Milan-Puskar Stadium. Fans should be salivating at this schedule. There is no brutal stretch of 3 away games in 4 weeks against the best teams in the conference.
The out of conference slate is good perception-wise but should be manageable. I am never a fan of facing a team with a new coach as the first game, as will be the case with Missouri. Get by that game and WVU will be 2-0 going to Maryland to face a BYU team led by sensational freshman Tanner Mangum.
The conference slate is also set up well. The Big 12 back-loaded the schedule this year. That isn't happening in 2016. Starting off with Kansas State, then heading to Lubbock, Texas for the first true road game of the year. Also, TCU graduates Heisman caliber quarterback Boykin.
Overall, the 'Eers will have the opportunity to face at least two of the better teams in conference, Oklahoma and Baylor, late in the season in Morgantown.
6. I think Dana made some great adjustments in the second half
ISU had a great first half against WVU. They compiled 87 yards rushing, had just run off the final 7 minutes of the half on a 19 play drive that included two fake punts to cut the lead to 7 points. WVU had struggled to run the ball, gaining only 47 yards in the half. Iowa State was selling out to stop the run and it was working. Had it not been for a great effort on Shelton Gibson's part, this game could have easily been 6-6 at half time.
Dana made some great adjustments at halftime. West Virginia finished with 213 yards rushing, gaining 166 after halftime. They only ran the ball 26 times in the second half, ignoring the two kneel downs at the end of the game. They gained only 2.7 yards per rush in the first half but broke off several big runs in the second half. Dana stuck to the running game when it would have been perfectly reasonable to think this was a game we needed to throw the ball around, Air Raid style.
7. I think this year is an aberration for ranked teams
Unless a dramatic turn of events happens, this year will likely end with WVU not having a win over a ranked team for the first time since 2010. It would mark the 17th time since 1980 that WVU has not beaten a ranked team all year. Don Nehlen, for all of his magic, had more years without a victory over a ranked team than he had victories over ranked teams. Rich Rodriguez brought a new era of ranked team victories, beating a ranked team every year from 2002-2007. Though I wonder what people would have said about the 2004 team now. Beat a 6-6 Maryland team that was overrated to begin the season, reached #10 in the rankings only to be upset by Boston College 36-17, followed by a hangover loss to Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, 16-13. Then the team was throttled by Florida State in the Gator Bowl, 30-18. Two of Bill Stewart's three years ended without a victory over a ranked team.