MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind while recalling with some nostalgia the Packers' olé defense against the Broncos in a Super Bowl back in the late 1990s and wondering if that might have been West Virginia's best option late Saturday night against Oklahoma:Of course, it's not something most coaches can do and still preserve their dignity, but desperate times and desperate measures and all that, right?It occurred to me with just under two minutes to play and Oklahoma having gained a first down at the West Virginia 12 in ridiculously easy fashion: Let 'em score. That's what the Packers did with the Broncos on the 2 in a tie game with less than two minutes to play in that Super Bowl. The idea was that Denver was going to score eventually, so why let them run the clock down and then win? Instead, let them score and have some time left on the clock to counter.Granted, having the ball at the 12 and needing a touchdown (WVU led 49-44 at the time) is a far different animal, but so is the Mountaineer defense. You knew OU was going to score, it was just a matter of when. That the Sooners had to go all the way to fourth down just made it worse because the score came with only 24 seconds to play.
Give Geno Smith and Tavon Austin the ball with a minute and a half left and needing just a field goal and who would have had the upper hand then?Again, it's tough for a coaching staff to admit, and I never expected it to happen. But that was probably the time to finally just give in to the reality of the situation and put the game in the hands of the only unit that had a chance to salvage the game.Granted, it didn't work for the Packers, who failed to score and tie the game. Nor did it work last February when the Patriots let the Giants score a touchdown late in the Super Bowl (New York trailed by two and needed only a field goal, but New England let Ahmad Bradshaw score a touchdown in order to get the ball back.)Still, it's hard to argue that in West Virginia's case it wouldn't have been the smart play, even if it would have been embarrassing to admit.
Folks used to be able to make the argument that West Virginia's inclusion into the Big 12 was the ultimate proof that things like tradition, geography and common sense all finally flew out the window where money-grubbing conference expansion was concerned.Well, no longer. As the Big Ten gets closer to finalizing this Maryland-Rutgers idea, there's a new poster child for the fiscal obscenity that is college athletics.There is absolutely zero rationale for the move aside from adding cable systems in New York, Washington and Baltimore to the Big Ten Network. None.
At least with West Virginia and TCU, the Big 12 was necessarily shoring up the strength of its football product after the loss of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri in the previous two years. The SEC's addition of Texas A&M and Missouri didn't make the best football league in the country better, but it made it deeper. The Pac-12 went to 12 with Colorado and Utah in order to stage a title game.The Big Ten is just adding another Minnesota and Indiana to its football roster in order to get onto cable systems. Maryland and Rutgers aren't even players in those pro-dominated markets, but adding the cable systems adds numbers, which raises ad revenue.Of course, the bottom line is even further proof that West Virginia made the right move in escaping to the Big 12, despite your angst over the current football season. Connecticut will now no doubt fill Maryland's spot in the ACC, which means the Big East football conference will soon be sporting just one of its original members, which you probably have to think hard to recall.
That's right, the flag bearer for an original Big East football conference that included Miami, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College and Rutgers will be ... Temple.nn
And finally, I couldn't help but ask Bob Huggins Monday if he was surprised by the condition his West Virginia basketball team is in after one game.After all, Huggins spent much of the preseason extolling the Mountaineers' virtues, going so far as to say that if this was the sixth-best team in the Big 12 (as per the preseason coaches' poll) then it was one terrific league.And then came Gonzaga and a 34-point loss."I thought we'd be better,'' Huggins admitted.
It's still early, of course, and Gonzaga is pretty good. But when pressed on anything he saw in last Monday night's game that he liked, Huggins could only come up with the Zags' student section in Spokane. "I thought they were pretty good,'' Huggins said.But this team does have potential. Huggins pointed out several times prior to the Gonzaga debacle - perhaps he knew what was in store - that he recalled one year his Cincinnati team being invited to open renovated Gallagher-Iba Arena at Oklahoma State, losing badly and then reeling off a ton of wins. Well, in truth the Bearcats lost just 69-62 in that 2001-02 opener, but the point is still well taken. His team didn't lose again until February and finished 31-4 and ranked in the top five.This isn't likely to be a 31-win team, but it's not a consistent 34-point loser, either. It just needs to learn to play together and gain an identity.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.