It’s a little difficult to believe.
Here we rest on this Oct. 29 – with college football’s regular season three quarters of the way completed.
WVU, of course, is short a game at 6-1 because Hurricane Florence forced a cancellation of the North Carolina State contest. Yet the Mountaineers are No. 10 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25. It’s somewhat puzzling the writers also didn’t lift West Virginia into the Top 10 after a 58-14 beatdown of Baylor last Thursday. Remember, the Bears entered the game at 4-3, had defeated Kansas State 37-34 and had barely lost (23-17) to Texas in their last two outings. It was a solid WVU victory.
But let’s stop and take a beat. Let’s look at where West Virginia and Big 12 teams stand. And let’s look ahead to the Mountaineers’ 3:30 p.m. ET game Saturday against No. 15 (in both polls) Texas at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
Both teams (along with Oklahoma) are 4-1 in Big 12 play.
Both are in contention for the league regular season title and berth in the Big 12 championship game.
Yet this game, in my humble opinion, is much more important to West Virginia.
Because the Mountaineers – and not the Longhorns – have a shot at the College Football Playoff. The only other Big 12 team with living, breathing CFP hopes is Oklahoma.
And one only has to glance at the league standings to understand why.
In the overall record column, all other Big 12 teams have two or more losses. That’s not going to cut it coming out of the brand-challenged Big 12.
Just take a look at what happened this past weekend. WVU drubbed Baylor under the Thursday night lights in Morgantown. Ohio State, coming off a bad loss to Purdue and a bye week, rose three spots in the A.P. poll, while West Virginia climbed just one position.
That has nothing to do with the CFP rankings. Or it shouldn’t have anything to do with the CFP rankings. But you get the drift. In the current climate, a one-loss SEC or Big Ten team will always get the nod.
According to expert Jerry Palm, Alabama will be ranked No. 1 when the first CFP rankings are released on Tuesday, followed by Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan. That would place Alabama against Michigan in the Cotton Bowl and Clemson and Notre Dame in the Orange.
Outside of the playoff, by the way, he has LSU facing Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and – are you ready for this – WVU versus North Carolina State in the Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl in Orlando. That would mean the Hurricane Florence game would be played after all.
All at this point, of course, is conjecture. There will be upsets and shakeups. But the one certainty is the Mountaineers’ game in Austin is more important to WVU than Texas.
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A check of the Las Vegas odds on Monday morning had Texas as a 2.5 to 3-point favorite over West Virginia.
I find that intriguing. The Longhorns were just punched in the gut by Oklahoma State 38-35. (And they had to outscore the Cowboys 21-7 in the second half to get to that final.) West Virginia, meanwhile, is coming off the feel-good win over Baylor. Also, while Texas nudged K-State 19-14 earlier in the season, WVU whipped the Wildcats 35-6.
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A tip of the cap to WVU’s basketball team, which “defeated” Purdue in a closed scrimmage in Columbus, Ohio, 95-89 over the weekend.
According to my sources, the Mountaineer coaches were very pleased with the win because neither standout big man Sagaba Konate nor 3-point specialist James “Beetle” Bolden played. WVU got 20 points from Esa Ahmad, 14 from starting guard Jermaine Haley and 13 from both Chase Harler and Jordan McCabe. (Haley, Harler, Lamont West, Ahmad and Logan Routt started, according to a boxscore floating on social media.)
WVU forced 24 turnovers, playing against an All-America guard in Carsen Edwards and 7-3 center Matt Haarms. The coaches were also pleased with the team’s first half, holding the Boilermakers to 34 points.
They weren’t, however, thrilled with the second half. Purdue scored 55 and made a game of it.
With Konate and Bolden not playing, though, you have to think WVU’s trip to Columbus was successful indeed.