The conspiracy theorist in me says that this game gets cancelled for “reasons” to allow Oklahoma the same time off that Iowa State currently enjoys and what better way to get that time off than to have a COVID-19 outbreak right before the last game of the season when the game has no bearing on the Conference Championship Game or its participants. But I don’t wear tinfoil hats, anymore.
Still, after the showing in Ames, I can’t say right now that I’m looking forward to playing the Sooners. Oklahoma is still Oklahoma and good lord our offense drives me nuts. I’ve always said I would rather win 7-6 than lose 54-53 but damn I’d rather lose 54-53 than 42-6. I’d rather think I had hope, however false it may have been, than to know we’re out of the game very very early. And to know those limitations are evident too quickly.
Now, I’ll tell you that cancelling the game is the wrong idea and we definitely need another game just to get our bodies back into it because playing one game in six weeks before a bowl game does not seem ideal for this team to fix its issues. At the same time, finishing the year at 5-5 (assuming a cancellation and a loss) does at least feel better than finishing 5-6 and our second straight losing season.
In college football, more than any other sport, perception is key. Go ahead and look around the sport. Not all 12-0 teams are created equal. It’s the reason that the P5 and the G5 exist. It’s the reason that there is a selection committee. It’s the reason that we point to Marshall and say “Yeah you’re 10-0 and you played 7 directional schools, two FCS schools and Kansas. You should be 10-0. Still, have fun on December 17th.”
That perception, and the perception around West Virginia is something to consider here. Neal Brown currently sits 10-11 in his first 21 games at West Virginia. Oklahoma is currently given an 80% chance to win the game and the spread is almost 14 points. Even if we beat the spread and lose by 10, and then have multiple weeks off before a bowl game, are you excited or even ready for that game? Is the team?
Back to perception, let’s play realist optimist for a second. Let’s say the OU game is cancelled. Now you’ve finished the regular season at 5-4 and you go into the bowl game. Say we catch Maryland and by the grace of the Lord we win. Now, you finish the year at 6-4 with a win over a former rival. And 6-4 feels and looks better than 6-5. It does. It also means Neal is 11-11 in two years, you can point to growth. Growth is good for a program struggling to find its footing, both inside the program and with its fans.
The downside here is the seniors, especially players like Tony Fields and Dante and Darius Stills. They do deserve a last home game, even if only 8,000 people show up. They deserve Senior Day. Nothing can really replace the feeling of walking on the field for your last game in your home stadium and even if you did a tribute, its not the same as a game. They deserve better, but they also deserved better than what this whole season has given them.