West Virginia, possessors of the No. 9 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff rankings and one of the nation’s best quarterbacks leading one of the land’s most potent offenses, has its chances and its fate for a Big 12 title and even a spot in the playoffs in its own hands.
Win out and win the league and a spot in the final four. While the concept sounds easy, the road is full of steep obstacles, beginning with Saturday afternoon’s dustup in Morgantown against wounded but dangerous TCU at Milan Puskar Stadium.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen refuses to look past this week’s challenge against the Horned Frogs.
“We don’t talk about playoff stuff,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t know if you’re referring to the CFP stuff, which we pay no attention to, or the Big 12 Championship, which that’s our goal. You can say that’s a lofty goal if you want to, but that’s everybody’s goal in the Big 12 is to play in that game, so that’s what we’re striving for.
“The only way you remain in that conversation is if you play well the next week. We don’t talk about scenarios, we don’t talk about who would be in that game, we certainly don’t talk about what happens after that game. It’s 100 percent TCU and what we can do to be able to win that game.”
The Mountaineers (7-1, 4-1 in Big 12 play) are where they are because they beat No. 17 Texas 42-41 last week in Austin on a gutsy do-or-die two-point conversion after their final touchdown with 16 seconds to play.
Holgorsen has been universally praised for his gumption to play for the win rather than the tie, but he said Saturday that the decision was made way in advance of the final score. Momentum and the way the Mountaineers were handling the Texas defense had factors in the end-of-game decision, as well.
“I told the guys on the sideline before we got the ball, ‘Guys, let’s go down and score and we’ll go for two and win this thing,’ ” Holgorsen said. “They went out there and believed it. They came to the sidelines after we scored and already knew what our two-point play was going to be.”
TCU heads to Morgantown after outlasting Kansas State at home 14-13 last Saturday when the Wildcats missed a PAT attempt late in the game. After a stretch of three straight losses, a series of injuries and some just plain ole bad play, the Horned Frogs (4-5, 2-4 in Big 12 play) were pleased they finally had the ball bounce their way for a change.
TCU has still never lost four consecutive games in the Gary Patterson era in Fort Worth.
The Horned Frogs have struggled to force turnovers this year but produced three against the suddenly hapless Wildcats, marking the first time it’s been on the winning side of the turnover equation since its season opener over Southern.
“Finally, we got a little luck,” Patterson said. “We’ll take it one at a time. It was kind of like Santa Claus hopes I had a good year because it hasn’t been very good for me to be honest with you up to this point — on or off the field.”
Despite the number of injuries to their defensive backs, the Horned Frogs still have the Big 12’s top-ranked pass defense, allowing 190.7 yards per game. West Virginia has the second-most explosive pass offense in the conference behind quarterback and Heisman hopeful Will Grier.
Something has to give on Saturday.
“Obviously we’ve been playing some people that throw the football,” Patterson said. “I don’t know if we’ve played anybody to this point that throws like they do. They have a lot of weapons.”
For a team that used to winning but went the entire month of October without a victory, last Saturday’s result may mark a turnaround to the season.
TCU needs to win two of its final three games to earn a bowl spot, but the road dustup versus West Virginia may be too tough of a hill to climb. It’s more realistic that the Horned Frogs can win at Baylor and then at home against Oklahoma State.
West Virginia and TCU are facing each other for the eighth time with the Horned Frogs holding a 4-3 series lead. All but one meeting has come since the schools began Big 12 play together in 2012. The road team won the first three meetings in the Big 12 series with each game decided on the final play.
Prior to 2012, the only previous game between TCU and West Virginia was a 31-14 Mountaineers’ win in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl in the Astrodome in Houston. The home team has won the last three games.