MORGANTOWN — As he prepares to begin what very well could be a make-or-break fourth season as West Virginia’s head coach, Dana Holgorsen knows how quickly things can change.
And that’s for better or worse.
Consider his own plight. At the end of his first season and nearly halfway through his second, Holgorsen couldn’t have been in a better place, or so it seemed.
His first team in 2011 was anything but overpowering, but a series of perfectly falling events late that year got the Mountaineers to the Orange Bowl, where that 70-33 rout of Clemson gave them legitimacy despite coming from the beleaguered Big East. It carried over to 2012 when another 70-point outburst against Baylor began their foray into the Big 12 and soon WVU was 5-0 and ranked in the Top 5.
Reader’s Digest version since then? Six wins in the following 20 games, including a humiliating bowl loss to Syracuse and a 4-8 record in 2013. On Thursday, Holgorsen and the Mountaineers begin practice for 2014, hoping to turn things back around.
And where do they look for inspiration? How about Baylor?
It was the Bears who were the victims of that second 70-point WVU outburst, losing 70-63 in Morgantown during West Virginia’s 5-0 start in 2012. It was not Baylor’s best moment, to say the least, but that loss also wasn’t unusual. Yes, the Bears were 3-0 before that loss, but then they went 1-5 with only an obligatory win over Kansas. They seemed to be going nowhere in a hurry.
Then it turned around. Baylor won its final four games of 2012, including a rout of UCLA that was so lopsided that the officials gave the Bruins a touchdown on the last play of a 49-19 loss even though the receiver never crossed the goal line. That was a precursor to an 11-2, Big 12-title-winning season in 2013, in which Art Briles’ team played in the Fiesta Bowl and was in the national title game discussion until Thanksgiving.
Suddenly, all was right with Baylor.
“Look at Baylor last year. They had a tremendous season. Art has done a great job,’’ Holgorsen said at last week’s Big 12 media days in Dallas. “But in 2012 they were at a pretty bad place about midseason. Now, they got it together toward the end of the season, but they weren’t in a very good place then.
But they stuck with it and went.’’
Holgorsen obviously feels that his team is in the same kind of position. True, Baylor’s struggles weren’t as long-term as West Virginia’s. The Bears had a nine-game win streak going over two years before that loss in Morgantown started the 1-5 slide, but Holgorsen’s point is that if a team feels like it is on the right track even through something like that, sticking to the plan is the best way to go.
And in a conference where the last five championships have been won by five different schools — beginning in 2009 the winners were Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor — obviously turnarounds are fairly commonplace.
“I don’t know how many teams have been dominant in the Big 12,’’ Holgorsen said. “Parity is upon us. You’d better be ready to go each and every week.’’
Holgorsen also likes to point out that his team wasn’t exactly dominated last year. Yes, there were a few of those games, like giving up 73 points to Baylor, being shut out by Maryland and losing to Kansas. But there were also overtime losses to Texas and Iowa State and fourth-quarter defeats against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
“We’ve been competitive,’’ Holgorsen said. “We were in three overtime games. We lost fourth-quarter leads. We won a couple of close games. Each and every one was pretty much competitive.
“We need to stay the course, continue to develop our talent, continue to recruit better. And then we’ll win those games. Hopefully we can put a season together that everybody will be proud of.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.