Who is WVU’s main conference rival?
It’s been four seasons in the Big 12 football wars for West Virginia.
Nine conference rivals. . . but none closer than hundreds and hundreds of miles away and in a different time zone.
Has West Virginia curried a front-burner rivalry with any school in all of the Big 12?
The brightest names on any marquee are Oklahoma and Texas. The least-known in football circles are Kansas and Iowa State while trying to sell Kansas State as a simmering, year-round rival would be difficult even if the deal came with S&H green stamps, coupons to see the next Harry Potter movie or a free raft trip down the Gauley River.
Oklahoma owns a 4-0 record against the Mountaineers since WVU rode into the plains-states in 2012.
Cultivating a rivalry with Texas has some merit since the two teams have split their four games. But how many white-hot rivals can the Longhorns have? Already on the Texas schedule are long-time opponents Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas Christian.
Trying to drum up emotion when seeing Kansas State on the schedule would be a hard-sell since the Wildcats are 4-0 against the Mountaineers.
The thought of Iowa State as a blood-curdling, win-or-die rival is far-fetched since the Cyclones don’t beat their chests over their annual losing records and are way off in Ames where fields of corn are more famous than is football.
Kansas plays basketball at a high level. It plays football at a below sea level height. West Virginia owns 3-1 records over both Iowa State and Kansas.
Both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State have split their four games with Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers.
West Virginia has beaten Texas Tech in both 2014 and 2015 and both times by close scores. It had losses to the Red Raiders in both 2012 and 2013 and only one of those defeats was close.
Against Oklahoma State, two of the games have been close but two have been lop-sided. Would the Cowboys ever consider West Virginia in the same sentence as historical rivals Oklahoma and the Texas-based schools?
Jaw-dropping scoring has mostly occurred when the Mountaineers faced Baylor.
In the first conference meeting in 2012, West Virginia managed to win in a scoring deluge, 70-63. The next year, Baylor kept on scoring but the Mountaineers tailed off some in losing, 73-42.
The short series stands even now after WVU won a 41-27 verdict and then Baylor passed over the stunned Mountaineer secondary in a 62-38 win last season.
The Bears had to fire their coach in the past months after off-field troubles were uncovered and administrators tried to keep them from the light of day. Baylor might accept the call for a heated rivalry from even as far from Waco, Texas as Morgantown is.
That leaves Texas Christian.
West Virginia did beat the Horned Frogs in 2013 in overtime, but the four-year conference record is only 1-3 against the boys from Fort Worth.
Holgorsen can’t give pre-game harangues about “big rivalries” when playing any of the nine conference teams.
He needs to find the ways to send his troops to an emotional high against all nine . . . and keep them at a near fever pitch even if any opponent takes an early two-touchdown lead.
Holgorsen’s overall Big 12 record is 15-21 in four conference seasons.
There seem to be no natural rivals on hand. Beating Oklahoma or Texas would probably gladden more hearts in Morgantown than wins against the other seven teams. But the ice will be thin on the Monongahela River for skating this December if Holgorsen travels through another season that’s without much to savor and without a bowl game with some zest and importance to the administration, alumni and friends.