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What I Think As West Virginia Enters Phase 2

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The next five games are the most important in the Dana Holgorsen era

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

All Is Not Lost

Many fans, especially those that are simply chomping at the bit to get rid of the head coach, are down on the team following the butt kicking they received in Ames last Saturday. I’m not going to tell you how to feel about this team, but I do want to remind you that only four teams have zero or one conference loss: Texas Longhorns, West Virginia Mountaineers, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Tech Red Raiders.

West Virginia already owns the tiebreaker over the Red Raiders, thanks to their 42-34 win in Lubbock and the Mountaineers will get their shot at the Longhorns and Sooners in the next six weeks. Everything that was going to make this season special - 10 wins and a Big 12 Championship appearance/title - are all still on the table. One loss did not derail the season.

The next five games will determine Dana’s fate

Sitting at 5-1, the Mountaineers are poised to define the Dana Holgorsen era. We are now past the depth issues that plagued the coaching staff during their first few seasons in the Big 12. Taking over in 2011, it took Dana four full recruiting cycles to simply build a full roster. Now he has had three and a half seasons of a full roster. He turned one season - 2016 - into a ten win year. This year, armed with one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, expectations have been high.

Most fans and pundits have thought that the Mountaineers were poised to be the team to make a run at the Sooners and possibly dethrone them for the Big 12 title. West Virginia was often penciled into the Big 12 title game in the preseason.

I don’t know what Shane Lyons is thinking, but the next five games and the bowl game, will likely determine what we know about Dana. If the Mountaineers go 3-2 and finish third in the Big 12, that would, in my opinion, define the ceiling with Dana. Third place in the Big 12 in a down year is the best we are able to do. If Dana can win his bowl game, 9-3 would be a very good season. If Dana loses his bowl game, you then are staring at 8-4 with a Heisman-caliber quarterback in a conference that lacked a lot of tough games. Can you keep a coach that your ceiling is third place? Can West Virginia attract a coach that can do better?

On the flip side, if Dana turns this into a Big 12 Championship Game appearance and a New York Six bowl game, you can sign him to a lifetime contract.

November May Not Be As Tough As Thought

Everyone pointed to the November schedule and said “another end of the year slide because Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State and OU are the four best teams in the Big 12”. Normally that would be true, but that isn’t the case this year.

Texas has finally figured it out under Tom Herman. Oklahoma is still dangerous and maybe more so now that they got rid of Mike Stoops. TCU and Oklahoma State aren’t the dangerous teams that were originally thought. Not this year. Oklahoma State has played the same conference slate as the Mountaineers. West Virginia has given up 92 points in conference. OSU has given up 148. TCU has played a tougher slate [TTU, ISU, UT and OU] but they’ve still given up 114 points and only scored 74. Against the Sooners, Gary Patterson pulled Shawn Robinson and inserted Michael Collins.

The Mountaineers will need to handle an expected raucous crowd in Austin, but the OSU/TCU games won’t be as tough as people originally thought in July.

The 2019 Schedule is OOF

The 2019 schedule was released last week and my first thoughts were: WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

The schedule starts out well, letting the Mountaineers ease into the season with JMU. JMU isn’t a pushover and the Mountaineers have to be careful but week one is when teams are working things out and either Jack Allison or Trey Lowe will be making their first start for West Virginia. I want something easy.

The team will travel to Missouri, who have followed the mediocre SEC script of scheduling cupcake OOC games and beating the awful bottom dwellers so you can eek out bowl eligibility the past three years. Missouri’s best quarterback, Drew Lock, will be gone. Then the Mountaineers will get to host the NC State Wolfpack before starting Big 12 conference play with Kansas.

Then the schedule makers just really want to make things wonky. WVU has an early bye before playing Texas only to realize that Texas also has a bye that week. Goodbye advantage. Texas and Iowa State are back to back home games before traveling to Norman to take on the Sooners. That game is followed by 12 days off and then going to Waco, on Halloween, to take on Baylor.

The second half of the schedule isn’t “Murder’s Row” with a home game against Texas Tech then a trip to Manhattan against K-State. The final two games of the 2019 season - home against the Cowboys before a Black Friday showdown against the Horned Frogs - could spell disaster.