MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — As the Big 12 reaches out to regain its place in college football, so, too, does West Virginia.
The Mountaineers look at themselves as a team on the rise, but there is only one way to prove it — on the field.
Here are five “musts” WVU needs to accomplish to show that things are changing for West Virginia, which enters its fourth season under Brown:
No. 1 — Beat Pitt
The Backyard Brawl is always the centerpiece of WVU’s, season but this year it will be viewed through an electron microscope.
True, there has been more at stake on the national stage in other years, but this game ushers in the new season and is played nationally on Thursday night. If WVU is to make a conclusive opening argument, there is no better way than in what figures to be the team’s highest-rated televised game of the season.
Then there’s the fact that Pitt comes in off an ACC regular-season championship in which it produced a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, the 20th selection in the last NFL draft.
The game, too, is crucial in judging the relative strengths of the two rival programs, who have not played in 11 years, and in a rivalry dominated by WVU when it was interrupted, winning 7 of the last 10 meetings.
No. 2 — Beat Oklahoma, finally
Nothing announces a Mountaineer return to college football prominence than beating Oklahoma.
They’ve done it before — twice.
In the early days of Don Nehlen’s coaching career, as he was just beginning to be noticed, he went into Norman and avenged an embarrassing 52-10 Sooner victory over the Mountaineers four years earlier with a 42-27 victory.
Then, following the stunning 13-9 upset loss to Pitt when a national championship seemed within WVU’s grasp, the Mountaineers went out under then interim coach Bill Stewart and stunned the Sooners, 48-28, in the Fiesta Bowl.
But those were the only victories they own in the series, never having beaten them since they joined the Big 12 although three time narrowly losing. The first Big 12 meeting saw the Sooners edge WVU, 50-49, at Milan Puskar Stadium; then shake off Will Grier’s performance of 539 passing yards and four touchdowns to beat WVU, 59-56, behind Kyler Murray; and finally last season Oklahoma drove the length of the field on its final possession to beat the Mountaineers, 16-12.
No. 3 — Find a way to get an All-American spot for center Zach Frazier and/or defensive tackle Dante Stills
There is nothing like getting All-American honors to attract future All-American talents to your school, and this year WVU has two very legitimate candidates in positions where they have been honored before.
Frazier, who came to WVU an accomplished athlete, started as a true freshman, first at guard, and then moved to what is his natural center position. He received pre-season All-America mentions and, should he pull it off, would join Mike Compton in 1992, who went on to a long professional career, and Rimington Award winner Dan Mozes in 2006 as consensus All-Americans.
Stills would give the Stills family a double as consensus All-Americans should he earn the honor, brother Darius having earned consensus honors in 2020.
Amazingly, the two are from the same high school, Fairmont Senior, just 15 miles down the interstate from the WVU campus.
No. 4 — Win at least 8 games
That doesn’t sound impossible, now does it?
Well, Brown has not yet won 8 games in a season at WVU, and WVU has won that many games only once in the past five years, and the school has won 8 or more games only three times in the past decade.
What’s more, picked 8th in the Big 12 conference, it’s highly likely that the Mountaineers could be underdogs in nine of their games this season ... which makes winning 8 games a strong accomplishment for them.
No. 5 — Be selected to, and win, a quality bowl game
Earning a bowl invitation isn’t much of an accomplishment in an era where there are more than 30 bowls and a .500 record is all it takes.
You need a bowl game where you are likely to face a quality opponent, with a recognizable name, a respected history and with a purpose of something more than selling home loans, potatoes, lube jobs, snacks or mayonnaise.
And God forgive the teams that get stuck in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl presented by Stifel.