After a shaky start, Mack Brown's Longhorns are on a roll.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Baylor routed Oklahoma 41-12 Thursday night in Waco, Texas, it was just one of a series of late-season games that will shape the race for the Big 12 championship.There were four teams - three now that the Sooners have fallen by the wayside - which pretty much control their own destiny in the race. Baylor and Texas are 5-0 in the league. Oklahoma State is 4-1. All still have a round robin to play with the others. Oklahoma and Texas Tech, each at 4-2, are probably on the outside looking in.It should be interesting to watch."I think this will be the most exciting and fun five weeks in the history of the Big 12,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said this week. "Our league's got some huge games, not just us. A lot of people have some huge games here at the end that will make a difference in who wins the conference championship. It should be a lot of fun.''Note that West Virginia isn't in the conversation. The Mountaineers (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) are just trying to stay afloat. They need two wins in their final three games just to become bowl eligible and not interrupt a streak of 11 years of doing so.And while that is certainly disappointing, it is certainly not unexpected. The Mountaineers were picked to finish eighth in the 10-team league by the coaches. They are seventh right now. They have struggled offensively, defensively and on special teams this season, if not consistently then at least sporadically.Smaller, attainable goals have become the norm."We're not going to win the Big 12 and we understand that,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said this week. "We just want to improve and win the next game. If we get closer to making a bowl game we'll approach that when the time comes, but we're not at that point right now.''Well, as it turns out, the Mountaineers at least have an opportunity to affect the Big 12 race, even if they aren't a part of it. West Virginia hosts Texas (6-2, 5-0) at 7 tonight in a game that will be telecast on Fox, and a win would certainly throw a curve into that race that Brown anticipates being "a lot of fun.''
It would also be the second rather stunning upset of the season for the Mountaineers, who in late September knocked off preseason league favorite Oklahoma State. In a season in which West Virginia is searching for a bright spot at which to point, a twin killing like that at least would be something.Can it be done? Sure. The fact is, West Virginia seems to have Texas' number in many ways. The football team won in Austin a year ago and the men's basketball team swept the Longhorns. In fact, in football, men's basketball and baseball, WVU is 5-1 against Texas since joining the Big 12.And it isn't a juggernaut Texas team that WVU is facing here. The Longhorns began the season 1-2 and lost badly to BYU and Mississippi. A five-game win streak has ensued, but it included a nail-biting and somewhat controversial win at 1-7 Iowa State and has come against teams that are a combined 7-20 in league play and 17-25 overall.Yes, Texas still has a better resume than West Virginia, but this isn't Baylor. The first night game of the season in Morgantown might also count for something."This is a different atmosphere,'' WVU nose guard Shaq Rowell said. "I played at night in Texas last year and Oklahoma this year. Now those guys are going to have to come in here and witness how Morgantown is at night. It's going to be something special.''The bottom line is that while West Virginia isn't a part of the conference race, it can still influence it to some degree. A win would also make finishing the season on a four-game win streak a distinct possibility - WVU finishes at 2-6 Kansas next week and home to 1-7 Iowa State two weeks later - and completely shift the team's dynamic.
"It's going to be fun,'' Holgorsen said, echoing Brown's thoughts but for far different reasons. "It's Texas. We know our guys will not need extra motivation this week.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.