By: Rajan Nanavati
When you look up and down the top 10 of the college football rankings, the West Virginia University Mountaineers might be the most “double-take” team among said group.
After all, the usual stalwarts are there. Alabama, Georgia, and whichever team(s) in the SEC that haven’t picked up losses on a schedule that beats up on each other. There’s Ohio State and Clemson, who still remain the favorites in their respective conferences.
Washington is still the favorite in the Pac-12, and anytime Notre Dame makes it into an early October with an undefeated record, college football will have to appease the rabid — and deep-pocketed — Fighting Irish alumni by giving the Golden Domers a top 10 ranking, irrespective of whether they’re objectively one of the 10 best teams in the nation.
But when it came to the Big 12, the Oklahoma Sooners were the team everyone couldn’t stop talking about, what with their high-flying offense and Heisman-hopeful quarterback. And even after the Sooners lost the Red River Shootout on Saturday to the University of Texas, all we’re going to hear all week is stories about how “the Longhorns are back.”
Yet there’s West Virginia – likely the only team in the conference that’ll remain in the top 10 by Monday morning – as the sole team with an undefeated record in the Big 12, and in the driver’s seat to a conference championship.
We fell in love with the Sooners’ firepower, thanks to their star quarterback bringing to life their head coach’s offensive wizardry, all while completely ignoring those same things in Morgantown.
Though their last two wins – against Texas Tech two weekends ago, and the University of Kansas last Saturday – didn’t earn them a ton of style points, West Virginia has still scored 35 or more points in every game they’ve played this season. Lincoln Riley might be college football’s man of the hour, but Mountaineers head coach is still one of the forefathers of college football’s spread offense, having worked under guys like Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, and Mike Gundy.
And West Virginia quarterback Will Grier might very well be standing right next to Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray when they present the nominees for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, considering he’s thrown for four or more touchdowns in four of the Mountaineers’ five games this year.
All of that being said, expect Holgerson to remind his team that sitting atop the standings in early October doesn’t mean a thing, and they can look westward to Norman to see what happens when they start reading their own press clippings.
The Mountaineers also have plenty of challenges on their schedule, including a completely unforgiving month of November. There’s that trip to Austin in the first weekend of the month, a game in Stillwater two weeks after that, and then a date with the Sooners in Morgantown the day after Thanksgiving. A loss against any of them puts their spot atop the Big 12 in major peril, especially if any of those teams get hot toward the end of the season.
But for right now, West Virginia stands in a spot where they feel plenty comfortable, even if everyone else doesn’t: standing atop the Big 12 mountain.