In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a football game. It’s not the end of the world that West Virginia’s final out-of-conference game — a game in Raleigh with ACC foe NC State — was canceled this Saturday, considering the imminent destruction facing the Carolina coastline courtesy of Hurricane Florence. The decision was totally justifiable. The attention should be focused on aiding those in the region who need it, not on a college football game.
Nevertheless, the reality that West Virginia was squeezed out of its best non-conference matchup could have negative ramifications on the Mountaineers’ postseason aspirations.
While there are plenty of cancellations throughout the mid-atlantic this week, none of them matter quite like this WVU game. Virginia Tech stands to gain very little by playing a bad East Carolina team. App State playing Southern Miss? South Carolina and Marshall? Norfolk State and Liberty? No, no, no. Even Central Florida’s game with North Carolina feels bigger on paper than it would have on the field this weekend. No disrespect to Central Florida, but it was made pretty clear during the 2017 season that G5 programs are probably never going to get a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.
On the other hand, West Virginia had a lot to gain by playing at NC State. The Wolfpack are contenders in what is quickly becoming a wide-open Atlantic Coast Conference behind the Clemson Tigers. State is ranked No. 26 in this week’s updated Sagarin Rankings and has one of the top quarterbacks in college football. A win at NC State may have given West Virginia the best non-conference resume of any Big 12 team, depending on what happens in Forth Worth this weekend.
In August, an undefeated non-con record for West Virginia would have meant wins over an SEC school, a solid NC State team and a Youngstown program that went to the FCS national championship game just two seasons ago. Instead, the Mountaineers will have wins over a rebuilding Tennessee team and an 0-2 FCS team. I can already hear CBS Sports’ Brian Jones bringing this up, just before he argues for five SEC schools to make the four-team College Football Playoff.
The hits could keep coming this weekend if the Big 12 can’t defend home field in key non-con games. Boise State draws Oklahoma State; Duke travels to Baylor; Houston goes to Lubbock; Ohio State and USC play TCU and Texas, respectively. It’s not at all unreasonable to believe that the conference could go 0-5 in those games, which would do tremendous damage to its national reputation.
West Virginia’s suddenly weak non-conference résumé, combined with a Big 12 schedule that doesn’t appear to have much depth past the top three or four teams, pressurizes the Mountaineers’ College Football Playoff chances. If this WVU team wants a spot in the Final Four, it’s looking increasingly like it may need to be undefeated at year’s end.
Just like Hurricane Florence and the NC State game, these are matters that remain out of WVU’s control. There’s nothing that can be done but win the games on the schedule.
NC State made the right call by cancelling this game, but it’s impossible to ignore the fallout that could manifest weeks down the line. Hopefully, the lack of a third out-of-conference game doesn’t taint a promising season.
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