The 2015-2016 season was a season of ups and downs for the West Virginia University football program. Through it all, the Mountaineers got the programs first eight win season since entering the Big 12.
That accomplishment should be celebrated and rightfully so.
Whether fans think WVU should have won more games, and it certainly could be argued they shot themselves in the foot a time or two, or whether they were lucky to get eight wins, the fact remains, the Mountaineers won eight games and are the 2016 Cactus Bowl Champions.
The Mountaineers finished the season as one of the worst teams in the country, 115th out of 128 programs to be exact, in giving opponents first downs via a penalty and penalty yards given up per game (117th). West Virginia averaged giving opponents 2.33 first downs a game via a penalty and averaged 70 penalties yards a game according to knowhuddle.com.
Since the Oklahoma State game, WVU dropped three spots nationally in first downs given up via penalties in it's remaining games. At the time, the Mountaineers were averaging an astounding 87.40 yards of penalties per game.
There have been a few factors that went into those rankings this season. Youth and inexperience played the biggest factor.
The second biggest factor is the Big 12 refs who have constantly had a knack for making ridiculous calls that can sway the outcomes of games. Given the Mountaineers history in giving up first downs via penalties, West Virginia ranked 4th in first downs received by penalty this season. The Big 12 refs are such a comedic topic, it has allowed for an awesome twitter account to gain over 18,000 followers.
Finally, since Dana Holgorsen has become head coach of the WVU football program, it's been common place to see his teams rack up penalties. Under coach Holgorsen the penalties per season break down as follows according to Sports-Reference.com:
2011 - 80 penalties for 697 yards - 54 yards a game
2012 - 72 penalties for 665 yards - 51 yards a game
2013 - 63 penalties for 588 yards - 49 yards a game
2014 - 85 penalties for 757 yards - 58 yards a game
2015- 87 penalties for 910 yards - 70 yards a game
As head coach of WVU, there have only been 20 games in which the Mountaineers recorded 40 or less penalty yards (63 total games).
Through all the undisciplined play on offense and defense, the Mountaineers make up for it in forcing turnovers. The Mountaineer defense ranked second in the nation in interceptions per game averaging 1.92 a game. They also ranked third in forced turnovers per game averaging 2.58 a game.
To improve on an eight win season that included a victory in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, West Virginia needs to work on becoming more disciplined for the 2016 season. Take away the penalties while continuing to force turnovers and the Mountaineers defeat Oklahoma State at home and likely would have had a nine win season, maybe even more.