By Cam Huffman
When West Virginia’s players and coaches look across the field today in Fort Worth, Texas, the team they see on the other side will look very familiar.
Texas Christian University and West Virginia University both joined the Big 12 Conference prior to the start of the 2012 football season, and, to this point, the only thing separating those two programs during that stretch has been a 2-point conversion.
TCU joined the new league out of the Mountain West Conference, where it had found plenty of success. In seven seasons in the MWC, the Horned Frogs won four conference championships and played in a pair of BCS Bowl games — losing the 2009 Fiesta Bowl to Boise State but knocking off Wisconsin in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
WVU’s run of success during that same period from 2005-2011 was just as impressive. The Mountaineers won the Big East four times during that stretch and captured three BCS Bowl victories — beating Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl and Clemson in the 2011 Orange Bowl.
So when the Big 12 announced its two newest members prior to the 2012 season, most expected the Mountaineers and the Horned Frogs to be competitive right away.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
When the teams meet today at 3:30 p.m. at Amon Carter Stadium — in a game that will air live on ESPNU — WVU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) and TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) will both be in desperate need of a win to end long Big 12 skids, and both will be shaking off the cobwebs formed from a difficult Big 12 introduction.
The inaugural Big 12 football season was much the same for the Horned Frogs and the Mountaineers. TCU won its first four games but lost five of its final eight to finish the season 7-5 overall and 4-5 in Big 12 play. The Horned Frogs lost to Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
WVU started out 5-0 — including wins in its first two Big 12 games — only to lose five of its next seven to finish with an identical record to that of TCU, 7-5 overall and 4-5 in league play. The Mountaineers fell to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
The teams were so even, in fact, it took two overtimes to decide a winner when TCU made the trip to Morgantown. The Horned Frogs converted a 2-point conversion in the second overtime to win 39-38.
The records are again identical in 2013, and both teams are trying to learn how to win games. WVU has lost three straight to No. 17 Baylor, No. 16 Texas Tech and Kansas State. TCU has lost back-to-back games to No. 21 Oklahoma State and Texas and is trying to avoid a three-game losing streak for the first time under head coach Gary Patterson.
“They’ve been in every game, and they’ve had chances to win the games,” said WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “But they have just been losing. We are similar teams.”
Statistically, the biggest difference between the two comes on defense. Both offenses have had major struggles this season — WVU ranks 97th in the country averaging 22.9 points per game, while TCU ranks 95th at 23 points per game. But the Horned Frog defense is allowing just 22.8 points per game, compared to 30.4 for the Mountaineers.
The 249.8 yards per game TCU is allowing ranks third in the Big 12, while WVU’s 452.5 yards per game allowed ranks next-to-last.
“I think what it boils down to is confidence,” said WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “We need to play to win and not play just hoping to win and that something good is going to happen to us.
“That is how I have felt over the past couple of weeks. Instead of going out there and trying to take the win, we have played flat. We need to go out with confidence and take the win.”
Today’s game might not have a big impact on the conference standings, but it’s critical for both teams, who need wins in three of their last four games to become bowl eligible.
WVU hasn’t missed a bowl game in 11 seasons, dating back to the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl. TCU has been to eight straight and has played in the postseason in 12 of the last 13 years.
“Whoever wins this games is going to go to a bowl game,” predicted WVU defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. “Whoever loses is likely not going to a bowl game.
“We just need to find a way to play four good quarters.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.