There has been an acclimation process for West Virginia as members of the Big 12 Conference.
West Virginia needed a new football coach – one familiar with the league’s landscape and what it took to compete. Facilities needed (and still need) drastic upgrades. The football recruiting philosophy had to change for the better.
And the Mountaineers needed new, better rivals.
Even for a fanbase like West Virginia’s, it hasn’t been easy forcing ourselves to “dislike” one of our new neighbors. After all, we have spent generations hating and cursing the very existence of Pitt as a place of higher learning. It’s exhausting hating something that much. Yet, in its absence, we’ve learned we miss the Panthers and its hoards of delusional fans. We miss Heinz Field. We (sorta kinda) miss the Big East.
That ship has sailed. Your geographic location is a small concern in this new world of college football. Money is everything and money dictated that West Virginia abandon ship and head West.
Thankfully, there is one team who has started to emerge as the rival West Virginia fans can love to hate — the Baylor Bears.
It all started on that unforgettable “Stripe the Stadium” September afternoon in 2012 when West Virginia and Baylor dueled in a 70-63 barn-burner in which the Mountaineers’ offense put up school records. Geno Smith passed for 656 yards and eight touchdowns. Stedman Bailey tallied 13 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns. It was an insane introduction into life in the Big 12.
Baylor responded in 2013 by showing no mercy and running up the score on West Virginia 73-42. The Bears had been the forgotten child of the Big 12 since they joined the conference in 1996. Finally gaining some momentum as a program under then-head coach Art Briles, Baylor wasn’t going to let West Virginia supplant it as the up-and-coming program in the conference. In 2013, the Bears wanted to rub salt in the wound left from 2012, and it was Briles’ smugness in the win that moved him up the list of opponents a West Virginia fan would like to see fail.
Karama eventually won that battle.
West Virginia wrecked Baylor’s College Football Playoff hopes in 2014 when the Mountaineers’ defense stymied the Bears’ high-powered offense led by Bryce Petty at Milan Puskar Stadium. Quarterback Clint Trickett played his best game in a Mountaineer uniform that day, passing for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Kevin White torched the Bears’ secondary for 132 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns. The win became the highlight of the season and remains as one of Dana Holgorsen’s biggest wins.
Once again in 2015, Baylor sought its revenge by pounding West Virginia 62-38 thanks in large part to a Heisman-like performance from quarterback Seth Russell. Russell passed for 380 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown.
It was in 2016 that Baylor proved it would always be the thorn in the side of West Virginia even when there weren’t any stakes on the line. Down 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineer offense stalled under Skyler Howard and the barely bowl eligible-Bears responded by cutting the deficit to three under a minute to play in regulation. It took a Noble Nwachukwu fumble recovery to pull out a close victory 24-21 on Senior Night.
And then there’s last year. The 0-6 Bears almost pulled off the upset during their Homecoming behind a 23-point fourth quarter effort. Had Charlie Brewer completed that two-point conversion pass and willed the Bears to overtime with all of the game’s momentum, Will Grier would have had to pull off some magic to win the game based on the way the defense was playing.
Until West Virginia can prove it can beat Oklahoma, we can’t consider the Sooners rivals. Even though they – and their fans – have moved way up on that aforementioned “dislike” list. Texas and TCU are up there as well. But there’s venom when dealing with Baylor. Holgorsen better pull out all of the stops Thursday night in a much-needed win for the team’s morale heading into a difficult November slate of games. “Show no mercy, for you will receive none,” Aragorn would say.
The Bears are becoming the Mountaineers’ rival.
Get out the muskets.