Since it’s become a popular debate on Twitter lately, especially with West Virginia sitting at 2-3 in the midst of a bye week, it only makes sense to weigh in and bring the discussion over here to WV Sports Now. What are reasonable expectations fans should have for WVU each season? For me, WVU has failed to achieve what should be the standard.
Alabama fans are upset with anything other than a national championship every year. And when you have six titles since 2009 and a recruiting classes consistently among the best in the country, that’s actually pretty fair of an expectation to have. Conversely, Notre Dame fans tend to expect the same level of excellence from their team, but 1988 stands as the Irish’s last national title and it’s been a decade since they even played for the crown. It’s also true that Notre Dame requires a higher standard for recruits and their resistance to join a conference may eventually pose a problem in terms of the college football playoff. Maybe Irish fans have unreasonable expectations. But they don’t want to hear that, of course.
You get the idea? Now back to the Mountaineers
West Virginia is a program with a long history. It’s one that has a large fan base that seemingly remains loyal no matter what type of product they are watching out on the field. Some fans want the program to reach the elite status it had during the Major Harris days or more recently when Pat White was lighting up the scoreboard and making West Virginia a team people with no affiliation or otherwise reason to be interested wanted to watch. Other fans realize those elite eras have not been the norm throughout the history of the program, and regardless, the current college football landscape creates obstacles for WVU to reach that mountain top again. While both perspectives will likely always exist, I think everyone can agree there is a sense of respectability that should be required.
WVU is the 15th winningest program in college football history. That’s impressive. It is. That’s a better all-time ranking than some schools with just as long of a history and national championship trophies. But WVU has never won a national championship. Some could argue (I’m among them) the 1922 season should be claimed due to the Mountaineers being the only undefeated bowl winner that year. This causes the fan base to argue as among the hungriest in all of sports.
WVU came very close in recent memory to owning the title as the best team in the country, losing to Notre Dame in what stood as the national championship game for 1988 and then enduring a gut-wrenching upset to Pitt in 2007 that ruined a season on a clear path to playing for the coveted number one ranking. But he Mountaineers have only won a conference title 15 times and own a pedestrian 16-23 all-time bowl record.
It’s also necessary to bring up the fact many WVU fans were unsatisfied with Dana Holgorsen’s tenure, a tenure that endured some bad losses and a really lean 4-8 season, but did claim an Orange Bowl, two 10-win campaigns, 4 seasons with 8 or more wins and reaching or surpassing 7 wins in 7 out of his 8 years. At the end of the day, that is a pretty successful 8-year stretch, especially based on the history of the program.
These are all facts that cause immense frustration during a season the team may not win enough games to achieve bowl eligibility. With all of that said, the past doesn’t matter for what should be expected here in the present.
What should WVU fans expect?
I said before the season head coach Neal Brown needed to be on the hot seat and I would make a change if he failed to reach 6 wins for a bowl appearance this year. Some agreed with me, but others pushed back that the schedule was going to be too tough and solid recruiting classes were coming to Morgantown. My argument understood this year’s schedule would not be easy but that a head coach in year 4 has to be expected to reach a certain bar and a climb could not be sold if the team kept seeing a declining win total each season. WVU finished 6-7, including a loss in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, in 2021.
I stand by that as a bar for this season, although realize that a hefty buyout and those upcoming recruits will likely result in Brown to return in 2023 no matter what happens. But as far as what WVU fans should expect in general? Regular bowl appearances, winning at least 2 bowl games every 5 years, feeling that seasons with less than 7 wins are disappointing all seem fair expectations. Those standards understand WVU is not an elite super power program like an Ohio State. Those standards get that the WVU brand is not on the level of Oklahoma or Texas, and that’s why they were thought to be assets by the SEC, despite being overrated at times as teams. But those standards are also aware of what the WVU program has been, should be, can be and what it represents for so many people.
A friend and fellow WVU alum recently explained to me that he isn’t unhappy with the state of the program. He’s glad to have games against natural rivals like Pitt and Virginia Tech, and that’s more important to him than caring how many games the team wins. I think it’s safe to say the overwhelming majority of fans were thrilled when the Backyard Brawl was put back on the schedule or to have the Black Diamond Trophy at the facility, maybe even to a lesser extent to have played Maryland to kickoff last season or to visit Penn State to open next year. With that said, WVU is not playing exhibitions here and the wins and losses do count. This is not a scripted situation like the WWE. To steal Herm Edwards’ line, you play to win the games.
There’s even an argument WVU shouldn’t even have scheduled so many of these rivalry games at once. Having to play multiple big out of conference games like that, especially when they both fall on the road, is tough. In college football, your strength of schedule matters, as it should, but you also can’t afford more than one or two losses if you truly wish to be part of the elite group. When you play in a conference like the Big 12 that is tough enough to garner games against ranked teams on its own, you can gain quality wins without having to stack an out of conference schedule. It’s why Alabama or Ohio State schedules the occasional big out of conference game, but not more than one of them in a given season. They know their conferences will offer the quality wins they need on their resume and risking other possible losses isn’t worth it.
I said all of this to say this in closing, WVU fans do deserve a certain level of respectability. Looking for the occasional bowl win and a season with an above .500 record most of the time is not unreasonable. However, expecting to contend for conference titles, a spot in the playoff or national championships is usually a bar set too high. Can those things be a possible expectation once every decade or so if things fall the right way? Possibly. But WVU fans do need to realize the reality of the program too.