MORGANTOWN - What has happened to West Virginia's football team over the course of the past month is exactly what I thought might happen during this team's first season in the Big 12.
Don't take that, though, as some sort of self-congratulatory, pat-on-the-back boast. It's not. I actually missed the cause completely.
Silly me. I thought the biggest adjustment to playing in the Big 12 would be the physical toll exacted on the team as a whole. It's not. It's the mental anguish.
I should have known better. After all, football in the Big 12 is no more physical than it was in the Big East. In fact, it might be even less so. Stand outside the West Virginia locker room after any of these last four demoralizing defeats and you don't see guys limping out with ice packs and crutches. Physically, they're just fine, or as fine as might be expected nine games into any season.
They do emerge, however, looking a bit dazed and confused.
And that's because where the Big 12 stands out above the Big East is not in size and strength, but in athleticism. West Virginia has a lot of catching up to do athletically.
I was asked repeatedly over the course of the last year how I thought West Virginia would fare in the Big 12. My answer seldom changed. I said, to much derision at times, that I likened the Mountaineers to Boise State.
Think about it. Boise has developed a brand over the past decade as the most successful non-BCS football program in the country. The Broncos played one or two high-level BCS opponents each year - usually one in the regular season and one in a bowl - and had tremendous success. The question people always had, though, was what kind of success would Boise State have playing those teams week in and week out.
It's one thing to gear up for an early game against Virginia Tech or Georgia, one or two relatively difficult conference games and then a bowl. It's quite another to play teams of that ilk week after week.
Well, how was West Virginia any different? Sure, the Mountaineers played in a BCS conference, but isn't it rather disingenuous to criticize the Big East on your way out as being irrelevant and at the same time say it was dramatically different than what Boise State faced? It wasn't.
West Virginia was in essentially the same lot. The Mountaineers might play an Auburn or LSU, then go through a Big East that was subpar and finally on to a bowl game. And there you beat a Georgia, an Oklahoma, a Clemson and suddenly your team is relevant in the national discussion.
But what happens when Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson come back-to-back-to-back? And then some?
Well, in West Virginia's case, this extended losing streak happens. I never said I thought it would happen, but I did ask the question time and again - what will happen?
Again, though, I think I always assumed the same as those who wonder what would happen if Boise State were to face that kind of competition regularly instead of sporadically. They say the Broncos might be competitive, but they wouldn't be 11-1 or 12-0. They'd get beat up week after week and finish in the middle of the pack.