WVU is closing out the home season on Saturday against Cincinnati. And while this matchup may just seem like a game against a struggling team for the Mountaineers, there’s actually plenty of reason for intrigue.
This marks the first game between the two programs in over a decade and has the potential to ignite a rivalry since they’re sharing a conference once again. Aside from the new Big 12 connection between the two schools, there’s pressure on West Virginia and head coach Neal Brown to finish the season strong after a poor showing at Oklahoma.
Of course, all of this will be happening on a day designated to honor and immortalize Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen for his two-decade run of success presiding over the Mountaineers.
But what else should fans keep an eye on when WVU and Cincinnati battle it out at Milan Puskar Stadium?
Are the Mountaineers Vulnerable?
It’s amazing how much can change in just one week. The conversation about Neal Brown and WVU football leading up to the Oklahoma game was that maybe they are actually climbing somewhere, but that’s now flipped entirely again in the aftermath of West Virginia’s blowout loss to the Sooners.
Everyone knows the Mountaineers didn’t play well, and that means both the offense and the defense. However, that same team that looked so bad in Norman has played much better in other games this season and dots can be connected in terms of common opponents to make that confusing.
The pressure is back on Brown and his team to make sure West Virginia shows the program is truly headed in the right direction moving forward.
Will WVU be at Full Strength?
On Thursday night, Brown finally offered an update on CJ Donaldson and Doug Nester. He previously said he needed more time to evaluate them throughout the week. It sounds as if fans can be optimistic about both key players being available.
First off, Donaldson will be a game-time decision.
“CJ did a little bit yesterday, a little bit today and he’ll be a true game-time decision. Not me like not letting our opponent know, like he really is a game-time decision and so he’ll warm up, he’ll dress,” Brown said about Donaldson during his weekly radio show on Thursday night.
As for if Donaldson will have a major piece to the WVU offensive line in Nester, it sounds as if he has the green light but will be handled cautiously.
“Doug, we’re going to give it you know very similar treatment that he had against BYU. He’ll dress. He’s going to be available. He looked better today than I probably anticipated, we’re very fortunate,” said Brown. “He got rolled up from behind, and I really saw it. It was kind of right in front of me, and I was really concerned that, that was going to be something really bad and it was just an ankle, thankfully.”
The Elephant in the Room
There would be pressure on Brown regardless, but it’s only intensified with a prominent West Virginia native on the coaching market. Once Texas A&M decided to end Jimbo Fisher ‘s tenure, WVU fans instantly started to speculate if the idea of a coach with a National Championship on his resume coming home could actually be a reality.
Fisher will still be owed over $75 million in a buyout that stems from a fully guaranteed $95 million contract extension signed in 2021. So Fisher certainly doesn’t have to jump back into coaching, but if he does have an interest in getting back on the sidelines as soon as possible, would a return home to West Virginia be something he’d be interested in if the WVU job became open?
Well, Fisher did actually address that question about a year ago when asked and he was already on the hot seat at Texas A&M.
“You don’t ever say never in this business. Home is Home,” said Fisher.
Even with Fisher available, it might be difficult for WVU director of athletics Wren Baker to pull the trigger on firing Brown if he ends up with an eight-win season, or nine including a bowl win. And that’s still a very realistic possibility. Debates about the schedule or not, Baker may see 2023 as a big turn around from going 5-7 in 2022 and the progress he needed to see. It’s also possible the allure of Fisher darling out there is too attractive to ignore no matter what.
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