WVU hits rock bottom with this loss
LAWRENCE, Kan. - Memorial Stadium here in the heart of Kansas is a terrific place for college football. The stadium is old but in wonderful shape, the campus set among what passes for some of the few hills the state has to offer, and even the weather, at least on this mid-November day, was nearly perfect.
Yet for West Virginia's football team, all the setting did was provide a pleasant background for, well, a funeral.
The Mountaineers' 2013 season died here Saturday. There is no debating that. Nothing that happened before or after matters.
Before this weekend, WVU had done just enough to make this game matter. Now it doesn't. Nor does the one remaining game the Mountaineers must play matter. Iowa State will come to Morgantown in two weeks. Students will be home for Thanksgiving. Fans will stay home, too. There's really no reason not to. A 4-7 West Virginia team will play an Iowa State bunch with an even worse record. Nothing will be at stake.
Not a bowl game. Not a winning record. Just two teams going through the motions.
That's what happens when you lose to Kansas. And West Virginia didn't just lose here. The Mountaineers were embarrassed. A team that hasn't been able to beat another Big 12 team in more than three years beat WVU.
If anyone was still searching for the bottom of West Virginia's football barrel, search no more. A 31-19 loss to Kansas is it. Even Dana Holgorsen referred to it as "an all-time low,'' and he's the one charged with putting a smiley face on things.
All of which, in truth, leaves only one question that is open for much debate: Is this where West Virginia's program is headed or is it simply where it is right now? In other words, is losing to Kansas - as well as a losing record and a snapped 11-year bowl streak - a short-term part of a process to grow the program or more an indication of the ultimate direction it is headed?
I'm not going there right now. Besides, you've already made up your mind, so nothing I say will change it one way or another.
Holgorsen? Well, you know where he stands. He's in uncharted territory. He's never gone through anything like this. You get the feeling that he's not to the point where he's fearing for his job, and given that it would cost WVU in the neighborhood of $11.6 million to fire him he's probably right.
So what he'll do is go back to work.
"Where we go from here, I don't know,'' Holgorsen said after Saturday's loss. "I was planning on going to a bowl game, but now we'll go back and do what we always do. We've got to evaluate where we're at.''
So where is West Virginia's program? Well, that's hard to tell. We talked about this earlier in the week to some extent. It's difficult to say where WVU's talent level is today as opposed to two years ago or five years ago because that talent is facing far different tests in the Big 12 than it was in the Big East.
The relativity of the talent level, however, is a moot point. It doesn't matter if WVU's players today are worse, better or the same as those that came before them. All that matters is that they aren't good enough to handle what they're being asked to handle.
And that has to change.
"Everything falls on me,'' Holgorsen said when asked if there was pressure on him to fix what ails the program, whatever that might be. "You can't just sit there and snap your fingers and fix it. You've got to keep building your program, and we've been doing that now going on a whole year. It's just not where it needs to be.''
There is, of course, no positive spin to be put on any of this. West Virginia will finish with its worst record since 2001. It will not go to a bowl game for the first time since that year. An off week prior to the finale at home with Iowa State comes at just a horrible time. Sure, there are injuries that might heal, but wouldn't getting this over with as soon as possible be the best for all concerned?
If you think of it that way - getting the season over as quickly as possible - you might even be able to squeeze a drop of blood out of this rock of a season.
"Well, we'll get back to work quicker,'' Holgorsen said of missing a bowl. "Whenever that first Monday in January is, we'll start working. And maybe we'll have a lot of players and coaches sitting at home over the holidays saying, 'Boy, it looks like everybody on TV is having a good time going to a bowl game.' And so you work harder and you recruit better.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.