MORGANTOWN - For the first time in 12 years, West Virginia's football team will finish a season with a losing record and will not go to a bowl game.And after Saturday's 31-19 loss at Kansas, the reason is pretty obvious. This just wasn't a very good football team.There are reasons - call them extenuating circumstances, if you will - the Mountaineers weren't very good, of course. On offense, there was no experience at quarterback or, really, at any of the skill positions. The defense was adjusting to its third coordinator in three years and then was just decimated by injuries. Special teams weren't very special.But none of those excuses change the bottom line of not being very good. This is a team that struggled with the good teams on its schedule and the bad ones, too, seemingly with no bias.A game against preseason Big 12 champion Oklahoma State? No problem. West Virginia handed the Cowboys what is still somehow their only loss. The Mountaineers also had every other upper-tier team in the Big 12 except Baylor on the ropes in the second half of games before faltering.But perhaps just as tellingly, West Virginia also went into the second half against Georgia State and the fourth quarter against William & Mary having yet to settle matters. And then on Saturday, the Mountaineers were just taken to the woodshed by Kansas.Those were the three worst teams on WVU's schedule and in none of them did the Mountaineers prove themselves superior from start to finish."This team's good enough to beat anybody at the top [of the Big 12],'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "This team's not good enough to be able to beat anybody at the bottom if you don't play well.''In some ways, West Virginia's struggles seem curious. It goes back to those games against the upper-level Big 12 teams in which the Mountaineers competed or even won. How could a team that beat Oklahoma State - and that led or was within striking distance of Texas and Oklahoma and a bunch of others - be so inept against lesser opponents?
Well, part of it might be that aside from Baylor, even at the top, the Big 12 just isn't very good this season. Oklahoma switched quarterbacks after barely beating WVU and has since switched again. Oklahoma State was still trying to find its QB answer when it came to Morgantown and lost. Texas Tech is 0-4 since rallying to beat WVU. Texas was proved a pretender when it was walloped by Oklahoma State Saturday.Oh, and the Maryland team that made it into the Top 25 partly on the strength of its 37-0 rout of WVU is 2-4 since.In other words, the top-tier teams West Virginia played weren't even top-tier teams in the grand scheme of things. That probably doesn't make Mountaineer fans feel any better, but it's true. All those times this season when Holgorsen insisted he thought WVU was close to being a good team? Well, even he was fooled because the good teams he was seeing weren't really very good.West Virginia was just close to being mediocre or a touch above like everyone else.But unlike those other teams - all of which have achieved bowl eligibility - WVU never even got to mediocre. That can be explained by citing the issues at quarterback (and the other skill positions) and the injuries on defense. A healthier team with a stable quarterback would have gotten there.But this team didn't have a stable quarterback and its depth wasn't such to be able to overcome the injuries on defense. That's on Holgorsen. He's had two-plus recruiting classes (the plus being the year he was hired as offensive coordinator in December and brought in Paul Millard) to find and develop quarterbacks and defensive depth.
"This program's not equipped right now to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12,'' Holgorsen said. "You look at how many freshmen were out there - and I'm not blaming anything on injuries; that's just part of the game. But you've got to be able to have depth. In the Big 12, you've got to be able to handle a lot of snaps and you've got to be able to handle injuries. And right now we're not where we need to be.''And as a result, the Mountaineers won't be where they want to be next month, which is in a bowl game.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.