By Cam Huffman
After spending most of my Thursday evening analyzing what each of Friday and Saturday’s high school football games meant to the teams involved — when it comes to the postseason — I decided to do the same for the West Virginia University football team, which hosts TCU at 3 p.m. Saturday on FOX.
Figuring out the Mountaineers’ postseason prospects is a little different. College football teams don’t get 8 points for an SEC win, 7 for a Big 12 win and 4 for a victory over a Conference USA squad, and it’s not like the NFL, where a team’s record and standing in its conference determines when and where its postseason journey will begin.
When it comes to college football bowl games, a team’s ability to sell tickets and its attractiveness to a television audience are every bit as important as the outcome on the field.
Despite all that cloudiness, one thing is clear. When WVU takes the field at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday, it’s facing a must-win situation.
As it stands now, the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12 Conference) are sixth in the Big 12. Assuming the bowls picked only off the standings, and not on the issues listed above, that spot would put WVU in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against the Big Ten’s No. 6 team, Northwestern or Wisconsin if the season ended today.
But there’s a lot of football left to be played. With a win on Saturday, it would be easy to see the Mountaineers gaining back the confidence that helped them to a 5-0 start. They still have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, and two All-America caliber wide receivers, and there are winnable games left on the schedule against Oklahoma State (5-2), Iowa State (5-3) and Kansas (1-7). Those three victories would push WVU to eight wins, and if the team starts racking up the points it scored early in the year, who knows what could happen when Oklahoma (5-2) visits Morgantown on Nov. 17?
Assuming Kansas State (8-0) keeps up its current pace and wins the conference, a quality stretch run could land the Mountaineers somewhere between No. 2 and No. 4 in the league. The bowl possibilities under that scenario would be the Cotton Bowl — against the SEC’s No. 3, which could be a team like LSU, South Carolina or Florida — the Valero Alamo Bowl — against the Pac 12 No. 2, which could be Oregon State, Stanford, Southern Cal or, dare I mention, Arizona — or the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against the Big Ten’s No. 4 or 5 — possibly Michigan or Nebraska.
But imagine the other scenario, a loss to TCU. Such a result would put the Mountaineers at 5-3 and in the throes of a three-game losing skid. Confidence would be low, and so could the faith in the coaching staff, especially if the defense continues to allow the video game-like numbers it’s given up in losses to Texas Tech and KSU.
That team, the 5-3 one, would probably be in trouble on the road against an Oklahoma State club with a more than capable offense. It would surely be no match for Oklahoma, and wins against two of the bottom teams in the league in Iowa State and Kansas wouldn’t be a certainty.
WVU could be lucky to make it to a bowl game in that situation, and if it does, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, against one of its old foes from the Big East, would be the most likely destination. Somehow a matchup with Cincinnati or Temple in the snow just isn’t as intriguing.
So how important is Saturday’s game in Morgantown? It depends. Which state do Mountaineer fans, players and coaches want to visit in the middle of the winter — New York or Texas?
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.