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Be careful when dealing with a cactus

By Staff | Dec 28, 2015

That one point loss to Kansas State looms large when considering the future of West Virginia University football.

The loss resulted in a 7-5 record and brought renewed light to the thoughts new athletic director Shane Lyons holds for Coach Dana Holgorsen. Lyons inherited Holgorsen . . . and his coming to Morgantown from the University of Alabama means an inevitable comparison with the Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban.

Only a very few college coaches compare favorably with Nick Saban, the old Marion County, West Virginia native. And Holgorsen isn’t one of them.

When the Mountaineers were 3-4 in midseason — having lost consecutive games to powers Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Christian — speculation arose from Dolly Sods or Shanghai about Holgorsen’s job security. If the Mountaineers missed on a bowl bid, what would Lyons do?

Then came the wins over Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas and Iowa State and the sun shone brighter when it came up over Cheat Lake and Coopers Rock. Winning five straight at the end of the regular season would have pushed any conjecture about Holgorsen’s immediate future back into an abandoned coal mine in Jamison No. 9.

But Kansas State won by a point, making its record against Holgorsen 4-0. A bid to the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl followed.

The Motel 6 Cactus Bowl is one of 40 bowls this season.

It’s in Phoenix and being played at the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The opponent is well known, the Arizona State Sun Devils, who have a 6-6 record.

You may know the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl as the Valley of the Sun Bowl. Or the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Or the Insight.com Bowl. Or even the Copper Bowl.

Now, when the Mountaineers return to their accommodations in Phoenix — which are probably substantially more lush than those at any actual Motel 6 — from some bowl-sponsored event, they could be greeted by “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

Before returning to Morgantown where he earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, Lyons was last at Alabama where his lengthy title was “Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer”. He is a graduate of Parkersburg High School and should know the mindset of West Virginia’s vocal alumni and friends.

The ice Holgorsen is skating on is thinner than it was when the season began. But he won’t be fired even if there is a loss where the motel light is on.

Next year will be scrutinized by everybody. Predictions will be offered of impending doom or “How can WVU be expected to do better against those giants of the Southwest”?

The non-conference schedule for 2016 has Missouri in Morgantown, the Youngstown State Penquins in Morgantown and Brigham Young and its first-year head coach at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

The Cactus Bowl venture should be a pleasure for the players. They’ll be whisked from banquet to banquet, taking time to visit children in hospitals and seeing some of the sights in the huge Phoenix metropolitan area.

Another West Virginia team visited the same bowl in 1998 when Missouri beat the Mountaineers, 34-31, when quarterback Marc Bulger was that team’s bowl MVP.

Some excellent players have shown their talents to those who have attended the bowl including Drew Bledsoe, Ron Dayne, Aaron Rodgers and Le’Veon Bell.

The tickets in the baseball stadium with its three tiers and tens of thousands of end zone seats range from $23 to $209.

Next year is the crucial year for West Virginia football. E. Gordon Gee is back as the school’s president. In his long-lasting travels, he has presided over things at The Ohio State University, where football has the same revered place in people’s lives as it does with Saban and Alabama’s Red Elephants.

Next year will be evaluated in December in the glare of uncommon light . . . and the season better not end where they will be leaving the light on at some Phoenix Motel 6.