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Asti: Neal Brown Needs to Ensure Luster Doesn’t Wear Off Pitt Win



WVU Football Neal Brown Mantrip

To this point, the biggest win for Neal Brown at WVU is beating Pitt in the 2023 Backyard Brawl. For when it happened, how it happened and what it means, no win even comes close.

When Brown and the Mountaineers won the Liberty Bowl to cap off the 2020 season, people without a climb was happening. But then just two years later and West Virginia failed to reach postseason play all together. That kinda ruined any of the good feelings from that bowl win.

While claiming one win over Oklahoma with both programs in the Big 12 was nice, and it would’ve definitely been disappointing if the Sooners left the Big 12 never having lost a conference game to WVU, it occurred in a season Brown’s team finished at 5-7 and Oklahoma 6-6 and then 6-7 with a bowl loss. It’s hard to celebrate that too much under those circumstances.

But the win over Pitt comes early in Brown’s fifth season at West Virginia, one that has him firmly on a hot seat. It is also the first victory for WVU over Pitt since 2011, and it provides revenge for the 2022 loss to the Panthers in Pittsburgh. It’s worth noting the Mountaineers were forced to get the job done with their backup quarterback who won the game with only 60 yards passing.

It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. It just had to be a win. And it was. But now that Brown has that must-win under his belt, his work is far from done. It’s possible to give Brown credit for finding a way to win a game and recognizing it won’t mean a thing if the 2023 season doesn’t show an improvement record wise.

WVU director of athletics Wren Baker has made it clear he doesn’t have a wins bar in mind that Brown and his staff must cross in order to continue on to 2024. And that’s smart. Baker doesn’t want to box himself in a corner. He wants to be able to evaluate the state of the football program after the season without being stuck to a set mark.

However, it’s fair to say avoiding another losing season is a reasonable requirement. I have always felt if Brown can get to 6 wins and reach a bowl game, he will be back for at least another year. Obviously, that won’t be enough every year moving forward for a program that’s experienced greater success in the past, but that would be a noticeable step in the right direction and would likely be what Baker, a level-headed administrator, is looking for right now.

Would Bowl Game be Enough for WVU to Keep Neal Brown?

With nine gams left on the schedule, finishing 6-6 would actually mean going only 4-5 the rest of the way in conference play. It’s possible WVU could even top that based on how much Big 12 teams are struggling so far this season. As things currently stand, the conference does not appear to be nearly as strong as it was in 2022 when TCU advanced to the National Championship Game despite not even winning the conference championship. TCU beat five ranked teams throughout the season. Kansas State, another ranked team, then beat them for the crown. That scenario seems incredibly unlikely to repeat itself this year.

And I say all that not debate the strength of the conference, but to argue that four more wins is not exactly unreasonable to require. So Brown deserves to be recognized for achieving his biggest win, especially since it included adversity early in the game, but the rest of the season is still extremely important too.

If Brown follows up a Backyard Brawl win by laying yet another egg against Texas Tech, the jubilation WVU fans felt on Saturday night will diminish. If the Mountaineers lose to vulnerable teams like Oklahoma State or Baylor, it will be tough to brag about a big early season win. If Brown allows his predecessor Dana Holgorsen to celebrate knocking off his former team, that will sting for fans no matter what happened against Pitt.

Brown credited the crowd for assisting in the Pitt win. The intensity the WVU fans in attendance showed how much Mountaineer Nation wants to love their football team again. It shows the hunger and desire to be proud of what they watch on the field. Brown and his team now owe those fans something – playing with that type of heart all season and finishing strong.

WVU HC Neal Brown on Atmosphere at Backyard Brawl: ‘Players Fed Off That’

Even if Pitt continues to be exposed, a win is a win in a rivalry game. The only thing that can cause a Backyard Brawl victory to lose its luster is by following it up with disappointment. It’s not as if a WVU team disappointing would surprise anyone, but Brown and this group of Mountaineers now have an opportunity to truly prove their critics wrong and show there’s an actual climb to believe in once again.

My initial reaction after the Pitt win says it all:

One win doesn’t wash away the previous four years, but Neal Brown beat WVU’s biggest rival with his backup quarterback with tons of pressure on him and the program. He deserves to be able to enjoy that. The work is far from done though, and a Brawl win won’t make up for missing a bowl again either.

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