Of all that’s happened to WVU’s football team this season, the most surprising happened this past Saturday in Morgantown.
In the first half, Texas Tech scored 35 points en route to a 38-17 win over the Mountaineers.
Not to No. 10 Oklahoma. Nor to No. 12 Baylor. In fact, the Mountaineers seemingly took a step forward the week prior by losing just 17-14 at BU.
It was to Texas Tech, now 4-5.
Time for soul searching within WVU’s program, which is cohabitating the Big 12 cellar with Kansas.
Yet it’s also time for a measured look at the Mountaineers. I’ve heard everything from a call for Neal Brown’s job to overwhelming support.
Of course, if you’re reading this, you know I lay most of this mess at the feet of a certain football coach in Houston.
But WVU is 3-6 overall and 1-5 in Big 12 play. It will almost certainly miss a bowl. And one has to go back to Dana Holgorsen’s 2013 team – two removed from a 10-3 record and 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl – to find the Mountaineers so sans relevancy. West Virginia finished 4-8 that season. There was a gap from Oct. 28, 2012, to Oct. 19, 2014, when the Mountaineers failed to crack the Top 25.
Before that, one has to go back to Rich Rodriguez’s 2001 first season. Yes, that’s when WVU went 3-8 and still beat Rutgers 80-7.
This feels more like West Virginia is back to RichRod’s first season. Mountaineer fans were hoping for miracles from Rodriguez yet seemed cool with giving him some time. Kind of the same scenario now.
With Rodriguez, patience paid off. And now Brown is asking for the same. He said so in an emotional 1:44 audio clip to Mountaineer fans after Saturday’s game.
“I appreciate them being here,” Brown said. “They were here for our man trip at 9:30 in the morning when it was in the upper 20s, low 30s. They were here through a bad first half. They were here through the second half. And a high percentage of them stayed.
“I appreciate that and that absolutely doesn’t go unnoticed. We’re not playing very well as a football team right now. We have a ton of work to do in this program. But I’ll tell you on one of our worst days: We will build a successful program here. It doesn’t look like it right now, but because of (the fans) and for them we will be successful here. We absolutely will be successful here.”
“There’s some growing pains right now,” he said. “And it is what it is. I promise, nobody’s more frustrated with anything that’s going on on the football field than me. I can promise you that. But we have a high percentage of guys that are going to be back – and they aren’t only going to be back for one year, but three years. And they will significantly get better.
“There will be a product on the field that will match the fans we have.”
What Mountaineer fans have to weigh is Brown’s background, his pedigree, against the early results and early recruiting numbers.
Day after day on Twitter we see neat messages from recruiting visitors like, today, for instance, 2021 defensive back Jahaad Scales and outside linebacker Raneiria Dillsworth. We saw one from 2022 quarterback Camden Coleman.
So far, though, WVU has the nation’s No. 59 recruiting class, according to both Rivals and 24/7 Sports. According to Rivals, the Mountaineers would be above only – and here’s a shocker – Baylor’s No. 67 class among Big 12 schools.
Of course, it’s early. Brown has promised his staff will close strong. He’s hitting the junior college ranks and probably the transfer portal.
More importantly, Brown and his coaches have to accurately project that some of those three-star recruits currently in the fold will turn into four- and five-star players. That’s how Don Nehlen did it. Rodriguez found hidden gems.
West Virginia fans simply must have the faith there.
I’ll bring up something, though, that should help.
Remember the evaluations of Shane Lyons’ hire when Brown was given the keys to the Milan Puskar Center?
If not, here’s one from Bill Bender of the Sporting News:
“Neal Brown was one of the best hires, if not the best, of this cycle. Look at the track record of success at Troy. Double-digit wins and bowl victories.”
Understand that while at Troy, Brown’s teams won at Nebraska and LSU.
“He should be able to enhance that recruiting at West Virginia,” Bender said, “and the wins will follow.”
Words to hold tight for Mountaineer fans.
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