The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 17, 2013

WVU football headed in the wrong direction

How bad was West Virginia’s 31-19 loss to Kansas Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.? Perhaps nobody said it better than WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen in his postgame press conference when he labeled the loss as an “all-time low.”

To put it simply, after letting the Jayhawks snap a 27-game Big 12 losing streak, the Mountaineers have hit rock, chalk bottom.

Look, I know James Sims is a talented player, and I realize that Kansas has come close to ending the streak against some quality teams along the way, but it didn’t.

Sure it’s easy to overlook a team like KU, which has tried more flavors on offense than Baskin-Robbins and plays in front of a crowd that wouldn’t be kicked out of a library, but 27 other teams managed to find a way to overcome those obstacles. WVU couldn’t.

The streak of futility for KU actually goes back farther than the Nov. 6, 2010, win over Colorado, a team that’s no longer even a member of the conference. The last time the Jayhawks beat a current Big 12 member was Oct. 10, 2009, when they knocked off Iowa State. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, KU is 3-38 in Big 12 games, with one of the wins coming over the Mountaineers.

WVU’s tailspin may not include numbers quite so frightening — then again, you won’t find that type of horror in any haunted house. But WVU’s recent history hasn’t exactly been pleasing to Mountaineer fans.

Since back-to-back wins over No. 25 Baylor and No. 11 Texas last season, WVU is just 4-12 and it has beaten only two Football Bowl Subdivision teams with winning records during that stretch. One of those victims was Iowa State, which was just 6-5 before falling to the Mountaineers last November and ended the year at 6-7.

I know, I know, WVU is in a whole new world in the Big 12. I get that. In fact, I’ve preached that to disgruntled fans. But the problems that exist with the Mountaineer football program aren’t simply the side effects of joining a new conference. WVU wouldn’t be a good team in any league right now, unless it found its way into the Mountain East.

Syracuse isn’t a Big 12 team. The Orange, which trashed the Mountaineers 38-14 in last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, were a middle-of-the-pack Big East team, and past WVU squads dominated that league. The Maryland team that shut out the Mountaineers 37-0 on Sept. 21 is 2-4 in the ACC with lopsided loses to Wake Forest and Syracuse on its resumé. Kansas is a bad football team, and it would be just as bad in Conference USA, the American Athletic Conference or any other league.

The Mountaineers’ problems are vast. The offense looked like the Baylor Bears in the second half against Texas and the first drive against Kansas, then transformed into the Bad News Bears the rest of the way. The defense gave up 31 points to a team that had scored just 33 in its previous three games combined. In fact, KU had already passed its points-per-game average of 15.9 with 17 points at halftime.

WVU’s kick return team apparently feels as though it will vanish into thin air if it crosses the 20-yard line, and the field goal unit has been about as consistent as November weather in the Mountain State.

Off the field, alumni, fans and even former players are losing confidence, and with two bad teams going head-to-head with no shot at a bowl game on the line, WVU might have enough room in the Coliseum to fit the crowd that will show up for the season finale against Iowa State.

When WVU athletic director Oliver Luck put in a plan to replace Bill Stewart in 2010 — after Stewart went 28-12 in three seasons, winning nine games each year — he made the comment that he expected “our Mountaineer program to compete at the highest levels.” He threw out the goal of winning a national championship. This year, the Mountaineers don’t even have an opportunity for a Pinstripe Bowl championship.

Luck also pointed to two crowds of fewer than 50,000 as “an indication that our fans aren’t satisfied with the product.” Following a four-game losing streak last season, WVU barely reached that 50,000 mark, putting 50,238 in the stands against No. 12 Oklahoma. When WVU takes the field on Saturday, it will be lucky to reach the 40,000 mark.

While Luck’s and Holgorsen’s desire to set the expectations for WVU football high is admirable, its become clear that the program is headed in the wrong direction.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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