With the release of the revised Big 12 Conference schedule this past week, West Virginia University’s football team learned that it would start (at home against Eastern Kentucky) and finish (at Iowa State) its season in the same places as it had originally planned.
Otherwise, the team’s new slate represented a significant overhaul of the original schedule. In that, there are some positives and some possibly rough patches.
Big 12 play begins on Sept. 26 after the matchup with EKU on Sept. 12 and a bye week on Sept. 19. A previously scheduled non-conference home game against Maryland was canceled, as was a season-opening game against Florida State Sept. 5 in Atlanta.
From there, things ramp up in a hurry.
Instead of easing into league play with a home date against Kansas State, the Mountaineers are now scheduled for a road trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma to face Oklahoma State, ranked 16th in the preseason coaches poll.
The Cowboys were picked to finish second in the Big 12 behind only Oklahoma and return a slew of talent, led by running back Chuba Hubbard, who led the country in rushing a year ago with 2,094 yards to go with 21 touchdowns. The Cowboys edged WVU 20-13 in Morgantown last season.
“On Sept. 26 we’ve got a huge challenge,” WVU coach Neal Brown said earlier this week. “We go to Stillwater, Oklahoma — a game that came right down to the wire here, and they beat us.
“We are playing the team with probably the most returning talent in our entire conference and once we get into those conference games it’s going to be a challenge. But man, just a lot of hope and energy here now that we know the plan. We’ve got to go attack it.”
It doesn’t exactly get easier from there. The Mountaineers will host Baylor on Oct. 3 before a bye week and then a home date with Kansas, which will also be coming off a bye.
That kicks off five games in five weeks with WVU and Baylor being the only two Big 12 teams to have to navigate such a stretch on their respective schedules. The game with the Jayhawks will be followed by a trip to Texas Tech (Oct. 24), a home date with Kansas State (Oct. 31), a road game at Texas (Nov. 7) and a home contest with TCU (Nov. 14) following.
The Mountaineers will get their third and final bye week on Nov. 21 before a home game with Oklahoma (Nov. 28) and a road trip to Iowa State (Dec. 5) to finish off the season.
On the positive side, WVU’s schedule is without back-to-back road games, and where the Mountaineers were once scheduled for just one in-season bye week there are now three, with two of them coming in the middle of league play (all Big 12 teams have two bye weeks during conference play). Also, six of West Virginia’s 10 games are in the friendly confines of Milan Puskar Stadium.
WVU would also seem to catch a couple of the league’s better teams at good times. Oklahoma, for instance, will have to travel to Morgantown the week after its Bedlam game against Oklahoma State and the week before a season-closing home contest with Baylor in a rematch of the 2019 Big 12 title game. TCU, Iowa State and Texas each face WVU at the end of at least a string of three straight weeks, with the Horned Frogs hosting West Virginia in the fourth game of a four-game stretch.
On the other hand, Texas and TCU are the fourth and fifth games of the Mountaineers’ brutal mid-season stretch, and both Kansas and Texas Tech will get bye weeks before playing the Mountaineers, with the Red Raiders hosting WVU.
Then there is the season finale at Iowa State, scheduled for Dec. 5, with weather likely being a factor. That is amplified if WVU is as reliant on its passing game as it was a year ago with cold, windy conditions likely in Ames, Iowa.
And that of course comes just one week after a home date against Oklahoma, the only team West Virginia is yet to beat in Big 12 play since joining the league in 2012.
All in all, 2020 looks to be a tough start and a rugged finish bookending a five-game grind in the middle. And while it promises to be challenging, since the beginning of camp, Brown has made the top goal for his team to be the most improved squad in the country this season.
Within its 10-game slate, West Virginia will get its chance to prove just that.