I’d like to write that 2014 is a make-or-break season for Dana Holgorsen as coach of the West Virginia University football team. And I think a lot of you would like to read that.
However, I also trust our WVU scribe, Bob Hertzel. He isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, even when that’s not what WVU fans want to hear. And he’s strongly indicated that athletic director Oliver Luck is in it for the long haul with Holgorsen.
If Holgorsen is on any kind of a hot seat, he and the Mountaineers didn’t get any favors from those who designed this schedule.
Playing Alabama in Georgia, at Maryland and then home against Oklahoma in the first four games seems a lot like trying out a new video game on the expert level.
That is, there won’t be a lot of time to adjust, and if effort isn’t translating to success on the scoreboard, it could be easy for the players (following a 4-8 season) to get frustrated and want to quit.
But the best part about a new season is that it offers an endless array of promise. Appalachian State’s fans may have dreamed, for instance, that they’d beat Michigan in early September 2007. But it’s very likely that 99 percent of them never expected it to happen.
All that aside, here’s one lowly prediction on what to expect from the Mountaineers in 2014:
n Game 1: Vs. Alabama, 3:30 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, ABC or ESPN2. First, Alabama has a huge advantage in coaching, with Nick Saban as one of the all-time greats in college football. Second, the Crimson Tide has almost as many starters back as WVU, and will have a decided advantage, at least on paper, on the offensive and defensive lines. But this won’t be a blowout. Alabama is breaking in a new quarterback. It also has a new offensive coordinator, former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin, who hasn’t lived up to the hype at his previous stops, and has been used to being in charge instead of taking orders. Alabama wins, but don’t be shocked if the Mountaineers pull a stunner.
n Game 2: Home against Towson, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6, ROOT Sports. A night game at Mountaineer Field. Towson is untested on offense after losing in the Football Championship Subdivision national title. And the Tigers, while in a much better place during the Rod Ambrose era, still have significantly fewer scholarship players than WVU, which usually matters in the second half of games. WVU pulls away for a win to even its record at 1-1.
n Game 3: At Maryland, noon, Sept. 13, Big Ten Network. First, that pesky Big Ten Network is going to make it tough to watch this one on TV for some WVU fans. Better start investigating that right now, or, better yet, buy a ticket and take a road trip. Maryland has a veteran team with a great playmaker in receiver Stefon Diggs, and the Terps’ fans should be hyped with the first season in the Big Ten. Maryland should enter this game 2-0 with a chance to be 5-0 in its first conference home game Oct. 4 against Ohio State. But guess what? I’m not a big Randy Edsall fan. Mountaineers find a way to win late and go 2-1.
n Game 4: Home against Oklahoma, Sept. 20, time and TV TBA. Oklahoma is a trendy pick to make a run for major college football’s first playoff, and also should be unbeaten (3-0) coming into this game. This is a tough stretch for the Sooners (three of the first five on the road). And, I’m not convinced that Bob Stoops is the coach that he once was. However, this is also the end of the brutal opening stretch for WVU. I’m picking Oklahoma to win a close one, and WVU falls to 2-2 and 0-1 in the Big 12, but with a lot of momentum building for the rest of the season.
n Game 5: Kansas, Oct. 4, time and TV TBA. Yes, Kansas beat WVU late last season. But, it’s tough to pick a school whose last coach with a decent winning percentage roamed the sidelines for the final time in 1953. WVU romps; 3-2, 1-1 record.
n Game 6: At Texas Tech, Oct. 11, time and TV TBA. Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t shown me any more than Holgorsen has. WVU’s defense makes the difference in this one, and the Mountaineers improve to 4-2, 2-1.
n Game 7: Home against Baylor, Oct. 18, time and TV TBA. Art Briles has taken Baylor to some amazing heights. WVU may have more talent than the Bears this season, but until Holgorsen proves himself, I’m sticking with Briles and Baylor. Mountaineers fall to 4-3, 2-2.
n Game 8: At Oklahoma State, Oct. 25, time and TV TBA. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is a man, and he’s now 47. He’s also in his 10th season with the Cowboys, which is the time when burnout starts kicking in for a lot of coaches. The hunch here is that may have happened a little bit last season. Mountaineers win, improve to 5-3, 3-2.
n Game 9: TCU, Nov. 1, time and TV TBA. Probably more than WVU, TCU will end up wishing it never made the move to the Big 12. WVU’s talent prevails and Gary Patterson’s seat keeps getting warmer. Mountaineers now are 6-3, 4-2.
n Game 10: At Texas, Nov. 8, time and TV TBA. By this time in the season, a lot will be known about new Texas coach Charlie Strong and where he’s taking the Longhorns. It’s clear he’d like for them to start playing defense again, but that was also the case when Bo Pelini took over at Nebraska (and that hasn’t worked out so well). This is probably the toughest game on the schedule to predict. I’ll go with the Longhorns simply because it’s at Austin. WVU falls to 6-4, 4-3.
n Game 11: Kansas State, Nov. 20, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1. In the Rich Rodriguez days, it would have been easy to pick the Mountaineers to whip the competition on a Thursday night TV special. But this is Holgorsen vs. one of the greatest coaches of all time, Bill Snider. Still, WVU has more experience and should have a great home crowd as students get rowdy for the cameras while anticipating buck gun season and the Thanksgiving break. WVU wins, and improves to 7-4, 5-3.
n Game 12: At Iowa State, Nov. 29, time and TV TBA. The best record for Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 7-6 overall in his first season, and 3-5 in the Big 12. Since, the Cyclones have been 5-7, 3-5; 6-7, 3-6; 6-7, 3-6; and 3-9, 2-7. When the crowd’s rocking and the tornado siren is blaring, Iowa State can be a tough place to win. But as Rhoads has learned, it’s also a tough place for the home team to win due to its location and lack of resources. Mountaineers finish with a victory, surpass expectations with an 8-4, 6-3 mark, and get a nice bowl trip for the holidays.
Assistant Managing Editor Matt Harvey can be reached at (304) 626-1442 or by email@example.com