Mountaineers-Cowboys open Big 12 play
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The schedules have been reshaped. Both teams have seen their lone non-conference opponent. West Virginia has bid adieu to Eastern Kentucky. Oklahoma State held off Tulsa in its only brush with some team from outside the Big 12.
And now, on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., it will be on-the-road West Virginia facing nationally-ranked Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys were staggered last week, when their starting quarterback went out with a sprained ankle and the second-team fill-in didn’t move the team. On came 6-foot-5, 220-pound freshman Shane Illingworth, a native Californian. Illingworth completed four of his five passes and in general was acceptable, as his team got past the Golden Hurricanes.
Two more famous Cowboys from the offense — running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace — had productive afternoons. Oklahoma State fared better in its opener than conference rivals Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas, which all lost to non-conference outsiders the first week of the reshuffled season.
West Virginia drowned Eastern Kentucky, 56-10, in its first game on Sept. 5. The Mountaineers did not play last weekend.
With a skeleton crew of watchers at Puskar Stadium to see the Mountaineers tame the Colonels, there wasn’t much atmosphere to that game. West Virginia had suspended 11 players just before the day of the Eastern Kentucky game. Three of those players were reputed to be starters.
The Colonels had fallen in shutout fashion at Marshall University the week before visiting Morgantown, and didn’t do much better against the Mountaineers.
Even with over 600 yards in total offense in flattening the Colonels, West Virginia wasn’t a well-oiled scoring machine. Leddie Brown rumbled over and around the Eastern Kentucky defense in most of the first half, and quarterback Jarret Doege was more than adequate that afternoon, throwing to Sam James, Sam Brown and Bryce Ford-Wheaton. But there was not much of a concerted pass rush, and without a college, rah-rah atmosphere, there wasn’t much excitement on the sideline.
Everybody realizes it’s once again Oklahoma that is the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12 regular season laurels, but which team can do enough to face the Boomer Sooners in the Big 12 championship game? An early-conference loss is what all 10 teams want to avoid.
Now with the Big 10 back in business starting in late October, it brings Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa and possibly Minnesota back into the post-season, four-team playoff picture.
Oklahoma has been reaching the national semifinals with regularity, but there has never been a second team from the Big 12 to make the national semifinals.
The general conference theme is: “Don’t lose to any team other than Oklahoma and don’t lose in the first week.”
A common axiom in college football says, “A team usually makes its most improvement in any season between its first and second game.”
Both of these teams have played one game. Who will improve the most? Who will lose that early conference game, and still have Oklahoma to face later in the fall or winter?