What does a losing season do to a team’s confidence?
Was there a lack of desire when West Virginia lost at Kansas in 2013, bringing an end to its bowl chances? Was there a lack of confidence spread wide over the team when it fell in a wild overtime game against Iowa State?
Those two hide-your-eyes losses to two of the three tailend teams in the Big 12 to close out the clouded 2013 season left the Mountaineers with a 4-8 overall record.
Losing at Kansas meant the players wouldn’t have to practice an additional three weeks leading to a bowl game in late December.
Losing to Iowa State only showed the continuing porous nature of the defense.
The scattered remnants of the 2013 season showed the needs for improvement all over the West Virginia team map.
What would be the carryover effect coming into another season where an underdog status follows the Mountaineers into most of their conference games?
Even with a more mature team, could the confidence level be boosted enough when in came Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas?
What will be the mindset when faced with Alabama, a team that will want to blast away the stench of two straight losses and the harangues of Coach Nick Saban?
Alabama will not be looking past the Mountaineers. Alabama will be trying to get away from a 109-yard touchdown return of a failed field goal attempt against Auburn and then a desultory performance in losing to Oklahoma in a bowl game.
There is actual competition at most positions on both WVU’s offense and defense. Only quarterback Clint Trickett, several returning starters in the offensive line and a few defenders have solidified their stock as sure starters.
As many as eight receivers are still scrambling to catch the eye of Dana Holgorsen and his offensive assistants. There are six running backs who get mentioned by Holgorsen at his press briefings. The head coach says he has more depth in his offensive line and that Trickett won’t be buried under red, orange, green and purple jerseys as often this season.
But everybody remembers the 37-0 dismissal handed the Mountaineers by Maryland, and the 70-plus points the Baylor Bears threw against a tired scoreboard.
What does Holgorsen have to influence most games concerning his 2014 defense?
It’s true he does have competition with his down linemen, linebackers and secondary personnel. But does competition stem from overall weakness or from an improved group of much-watched defenders?
Should Alabama come out with its newly installed, transfer quarterback and three worthy running backs and score with its first two possessions of rawhide-tough football, what would that do to WVU’s confidence?
Would that scenario elicit a “Here we go again” murmuring from the Mountaineer sideline? Or would the players really have shed the stigma of last season’s ending?
Trickett has proven little himself. He needs a brood of pass protectors to succeed. He can’t enter his huddle with a “survive” attitude. Should he be chased . . . and caught . . . will he avoid injury?
Alabama may be the most potent team on the schedule. But there are at least six other quality teams in the Big 12, all wanting national recognition and some of them straining a covetous eye toward the season-ending national playoffs.
Certainly, it takes more than confidence to win college football games. Certainly, it takes a fight-back attitude when plans are disrupted or being buried on the scoreboard.
Has WVU kicked its numbing losses to Kansas and Iowa State to the curb in Sunnyside?
The first half of the Alabama game on August 30 will answer that question loud and clear.