MORGANTOWN - As possible as it has seemed on more than one occasion during the last month that it would do something to change its dire state of affairs, West Virginia's football team now finds itself exactly where it had hoped not to be heading into the final two games of the season.Win or else.That looked like it might change on more than a few occasions. In the last four weeks - or since WVU suffered that lopsided rout at Baylor - the Mountaineers have had every opportunity in the world to reverse their fortunes. Instead, they have lost three of four while giving up second-half leads in every one. The latest was Saturday's second straight overtime game, this one a 47-40 home loss to now-No. 23 Texas.It could have been much different, but the reality is that it's not. And now there is no longer any margin for error.
"It's pretty simple, really. We need to win our next two games to go to a bowl game,'' safety Darwin Cook said. "I've been to a bowl game every year I've been here. We have to go to one this year.''The truth is, everyone who has been a part of the West Virginia program for more than a year has always been to a bowl game. It's been a dozen years, 2001, since the Mountaineers didn't play beyond the regular season.Will this be the year the streak is broken?
"There are times when people don't give us a chance,'' quarterback Paul Millard said.Well, this probably isn't one of those. The truth is that unlike the last seven games - every one of them - West Virginia won't be an underdog from here on out. In fact, they are supposed to win.It starts on Saturday, when the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) play Kansas (2-7, 0-6 in Lawrence, Kan. The game kicks off at noon (ET) and will be televised by Fox Sports Net (locally on Root Sports Pittsburgh).Then, after an off week, WVU finishes the regular season at home against Iowa State (1-8, 0-6).
At stake seems almost certain to be a second straight trip to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, where the opponent could be an old Big East rival like Rutgers. True, that's not going to raise much excitement anywhere, but it's still a bowl game. It's an extra month of practice and yet another chance to make something out of a mediocre season."We're do or die,'' said Millard, who played most of the Texas game after Clint Trickett left injured (Trickett's status for Kansas is unknown)."But the fact is we've been do or die all season because we want to win every game. But now we're in a position where we have to do it.''The only real question, given the state of the final two opponents - their three wins have come against South Dakota, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa - might be if West Virginia has enough left in the tank to finish the job. It's not likely to be easy. Iowa State has been within a possession of winning or tying in five of its eight losses. Kansas has not been as close, but seemed to have Oklahoma on the ropes last month until the fourth quarter.
"I'm sure we have enough left,'' said tackle Curtis Feigt. "We have to. We all want to go to a bowl game.''That would have been a task made much easier had West Virginia not found ways to lose three of the last four instead of finding ways to win them."This one hurts a lot,'' Feigt said. "This game probably would have guaranteed a better bowl game for us.''Now the task is just getting to one at all.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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