LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Neal Brown's first month on the sidelines as the West Virginia University football coach had some rough spots, but the Mountaineers -- a team and program that is clearly rebuilding its roster and building a new culture -- got through the September portion of their schedule with a 3-1 record.
Now comes the hard part.
West Virginia is off next week, but when October hits the degree of difficulty ramps up considerably. With all due respect to James Madison, Missouri, North Carolina State and Kansas, WVU's next three -- possibly even four -- games are on another level.
WVU opens October with what has to be considered a grudge match. Texas comes to Morgantown the first Saturday of the month, and it would be naive to think the Longhorns won't have revenge on their minds.
Of course, you are probably aware of how the last meeting between West Virginia and Texas went -- Will Grier led the Mountaineers down the field in the final minutes and hit Gary Jennings for a late touchdown before Grier ran in a 2-point conversion to give the Mountaineers the win. After the 2-pointer, Grier ran to the Texas fans and flashed a double "Horns Down."
Yeah, I'd say the Longhorns have the Oct. 5 game at Milan Puskar Stadium circled.
If there is a silver lining to this stretch of games for WVU, it's that the first two are in Morgantown. The week after Texas visits, the Mountaineers play host to Iowa State.
The Cyclones have not quite played up to the level of their preseason expectations, but sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy is among the league's best at the position and helped lead ISU in a thorough whopping of the Mountaineers when West Virginia went to Ames in 2019.
The following week, West Virginia goes to Oklahoma, and I probably don't need to tell you how much success the Mountaineers have had against the Sooners since joining the Big 12 in 2013.
If, by chance, you're not up to date on that, let me fill you in -- it's none. WVU has yet to beat the Sooners since joining the league and this season's OU squad -- as usual -- has been living in the Top 10 with a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback. It would be almost serendipitous for the Mountaineers to beat OU in Neal Brown's first year after so many seasons of heartbreak against the Sooners under Dana Holgorsen. However, this year's Oklahoma team is as loaded as it has been in quite some time and it is going to be a lot to ask of any team, let alone one with a first-year coach and a roster in flux.
West Virginia gets the next Saturday off before an Oct. 31 trip to play at Baylor. The Bears might not be on the same level as Texas, Oklahoma or even Iowa State, but they are much improved in Matt Rhule's third season as head coach. Other than a Saturday hiccup and a close game against lowly Rice, the Bears look a lot like the old Baylor teams that could light up a scoreboard in a hurry.
It wouldn't, and shouldn't, come as a big surprise if West Virginia doesn't win any of these games. Not many people predicted the Mountaineers to get the six wins needed to become bowl eligible in 2019, but at 3-1 with eight games remaining it doesn't seem like a huge leap to say bowl eligibility is on the table at this point for Brown's first WVU team. How West Virginia handles a treacherous October will go a long way to determining if WVU can get back to a bowl game this year.
The strangest play in a strange game Saturday at Kansas had to be when the Jayhawks elected to go for an onside kick in the third quarter. Les Miles, long known as a risk-taker, got what he was looking for when Kansas ended up with the ball, but a flag came against the Jayhawks for kick-catch interference.
The KU kicker popped the ball straight into the air toward the sideline, and a gang of Jayhawks blasted WVU's Dante Bonamico as he attempted to grab the ball. Had KU's kicker hit the ball into the ground for a bounce instead, what happened would have been perfectly legal. Since he didn't, however, KU was required to give West Virginia room to catch the ball. That didn't happen, and the Mountaineers were set up with good field postilion that turned into a field goal.
Brown, when asked about the play, kind of laughed while saying the officials got the call correct. Miles, on the other hand, was not in a laughing mood.
"The only thing I would tell you is if they want to eliminate an exciting play from college football, they need to come up with a rule and just ban the [onside kick]," Miles said.
"If they didn't get there first, we should have every right as having arrived on the scene first, to have the ball," Miles said. "The reason you call a play like that is because you don't think [Bonamico] can get to it, and frankly that was the reason we called the play."
I know Miles has been away from coaching for a few years, but read a rule book or even just Google it. You didn't know the rule, and it cost you. All your kicker had to do was hit the ball into the ground and your boys are free to smash as many Mountaineers as it takes to get to the ball. But you didn't know the rule, so they should just do away with the onside kick? Good luck with that one.