How West Virginia Can Return To The National Title 30 Years Later
As is the case every year, fans and players alike hit a preseason wall where the talk and the conjecture is just too much to bear and there is a collective cry to once again just play the game. We have hit that wall. All the talk leading up to the 2018 season ranged from Will Grier’s Heisman odds to Dana Holgorsen conquering the transfer market to better food in the team facility, leaving every conceivable base covered. With that being said just over two weeks left until kickoff in Charlotte there is one more talking point to mull over.
A national title run for West Virginia.
1988 and 1993 are watershed seasons for West Virginia football. In those two years, West Virginia would go on to play for a share of the national title against Notre Dame and Florida, respectively, only to ultimately lose both contests. The Pat White-led 2007 team was stopped just short of a national title shot after losing to a pedestrian Pitt team in a season that felt like everything should have come together, yet never did.
West Virginia is the most winning football team in division-I history to never win a national championship.
West Virginia, to say the least, has been painfully close a few times over the years. Going into 2018 how can West Virginia finally go the distance and reign as college football’s unquestioned champion?
There are several keys, I believe, that are requisite for making the ultimate dream a reality:
Get everyone bought in: You can have more four and five star recruits than you know what to do with and space-age facilities to train in, but unless your program is a collective whole that eats, sleeps, and breathes a unified doctrine nothing matters. Whether it is developing a mantra or clearly story-boarding the path to ultimate success, you need to ensure that everyone involved understands the endgame and understands the unique role they play in it. From the sounds of things, this 2018 iteration of the Mountaineers have gelled and gelled well. There is great chemistry and there is healthy competition. A veteran on the defensive line recently offered his thoughts on the state of things, and there is reason to believe things are night and day compared to this time last year. Similar sentiments seem to be echoing from every position room in the Puskar center. If your team can find a north star to aim at, you tell everyone to lock arms and run towards it. That is what championship teams do. It also helps tremendously to…
Have at least one superstar leading the charge: The common thread on almost every single championship team in the modern era of college football is that each of them has had at least one touted, proven star that has been the de facto face of the program. Vince Young at Texas, Tim Tebow at Florida, Deshaun Watson at Clemson, Derrick Henry at Alabama, Jameis Winston at Florida State etc, etc. For West Virginia, that player is senior quarterback Will Grier. Even in a shortened season in 2017, Grier put up a dynamite stat line falling just shy of 3,500 yards passing along with 34 touchdowns. Grier has triumphed over controversy and seems to be outfitted with all the necessary pieces to put together a historic 2018 season. West Virginia is so bullish on the North Carolina native that they have backed a website, which markets him for this year’s Heisman trophy. The Mountaineers have their front-man, and have given him full control of arguably the nation’s most high-powered offense. With Grier, West Virginia has a recognizable center point for the rest of the nation to zero in on. Assuming no. 7 is who we all think he is, all the Mountaineers need to do is…
Win and win BIG: If the Mountaineers are able to successfully fulfill steps one and two and not only win, but do so in dramatic fashion the odds of winning the whole damn thing are very favorable. It is beautifully simplistic, but not an easy feat. West Virginia has to manage to not drop more than a single game in Big 12 play. They are also going on the road against the best two non-conference P5 teams Tennessee and N.C. State. Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas are all road dates that present no easy outs. Even if West Virginia rides through November 17th undefeated, Oklahoma is the dreaded sentry standing guard at the entrance to a Big 12 championship. Even then, the Mountaineers, without the type of political points that Alabama or the Ohio State has in excess, will have to hope that their win total and the way those wins were tallied will be enough to push them to the brink. Smashing Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks and going undefeated would help tremendously. West Virginia has to win, yes, but they have to headline each win with gaudy stats and runaway theatricality. They have to leave the pollsters and the playoff committee with reasons as to why West Virginia should not be anything, but a top-5 team in the nation. They have to… Leave. No. Doubt.
The Mountaineers are in a position they have not been in since hitching their wagon to the Big 12 train back in 2012. Not only do they have the star power at the right positions, but also the depth and the continuity within the program to put together something time capsule-worthy in 2018. If and how that happens remains to be seen and all of us wait with bated breath for the clock to start running on September 1st. What is certain, is that if West Virginia is mindful of the simple things and has everyone on a single track when they take the field against Tennessee two Saturday’s from now, the most winning team to never win a national title might just go take on the world and win one in 2018.