Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about WVU?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- I spent a bit of time Monday going through the player participation list from West Virginia's most recent game. You remember that, right? It was Saturday's messy 31-19 embarrassment at Kansas.
I did so because of this, from Dana Holgorsen in the aftermath of what stands as the low-water mark in the already-shallow pool that constitutes WVU football over the past two seasons:
"This program's not equipped right now to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12,'' Holgorsen said. "You look at how many freshmen were out there - and I'm not blaming anything on injuries; that's just part of the game. But you've got to be able to have depth. In the Big 12, you've got to be able to handle a lot of snaps and you've got to be able to handle injuries. And right now we're not where we need to be.''
The question, then, becomes an easy one: Is West Virginia headed in the right direction?
The answer? Well, not so easy.
Of course, none of what I'm about to present is likely to sway your opinion one way or another. It's the Fox News/MSNBC syndrome that pervades our culture. There's no longer any gray area to anything political. You've made up your mind and nothing anyone says will change it. You watch one or the other merely to validate your point of view.
Thus, Dana Holgorsen is either the worst thing that has ever happened to West Virginia (not just the university, but the state, right?) or he's trying to make chicken salad out of chicken excrement and deserves more time.
And so none of this will be enlightening. Shoot, I'm not even sure what to make of it. But while one faction accuses Holgorsen of ruining what they perceive as the wonderful program the late Bill Stewart had built, and another praises him for beginning the process of blowing up what they saw as a stagnant program and starting from scratch, it is at least interesting to revisit the current WVU roster and see just whose players these are.
And so first, we took a look at that player participation chart from the Kansas game. A total of 54 players saw the field, be it on offense, defense or special teams. Of those, 37 were recruited after Holgorsen arrived in December of 2010 and 17 were already on board.
(Just to clarify further, when we say recruited after Holgorsen came on board, that includes anyone that committed after he was hired as the offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting. They may or may not have been primarily Stewart recruits, but when they committed they knew who they would eventually play for. Conversely, anyone that was already on the roster or had committed to the next recruiting class pro-Holgorsen is considered a Stewart holdover).
Anyway, the 22 starters on offense and defense in the Kansas game were split down the middle, 11 Stewart signees and 11 on Holgorsen's watch. Perhaps curiously, there were more Holgorsen defensive starters (6) than offensive (5).
Where it starts to become a bit more interesting is in the depth that Holgorsen talked about. Minus the 22 starters, that means 32 others saw action. All but six can be considered Holgorsen-era players. Add it up and 37 of the 54 players who saw action at Kansas arrived on Holgorsen's watch, 17 having already been here or committed.
Of course, you can take that a couple of different ways, which I'm sure you will. On one hand, Holgorsen is already playing predominantly with his own players (just under 70 percent) and failing miserably, as a 6-13 record in the last 19 games attests.
On the other hand, though, it goes without saying that since Holgorsen has been on board less than three years, every one of those players who have arrived on his watch have been in the program less than three years. Eleven of those 37 Holgorsen players who saw action against Kansas have been in the program less than a year, arriving either in January or this summer. And 16 others arrived only last year. That's 27 first- or second-year players among the 37 Holgorsen-era recruits who played on Saturday.
Oh, and you may also have noticed it's exactly half of the players who played at Kansas. Granted, some are transfers or junior college guys with some previous experience, but they've still been in WVU's program barely long enough to have redshirted, although most didn't.
Again, you can spin all of that any way you want, which I'm sure you will. And while you're at it, include the injured list in there, too. There are 17 players who have played this season or were expected to play and didn't play at Kansas, most because of injuries. Eleven are Holgorsen recruits.
The grand totals? Well, that's 71 players, 48 of them Holgorsen-era recruits. So you can argue that after three years and with well over half the contributors his own, Holgorsen's depth issues are self-created.
Or, as Holgorsen will almost certainly argue, with so many first- and second-year players (33 of the 48) trying to make things happen during a rebuilding process, well, what do you expect? His argument will be that he's had two full recruiting classes and part of a third (his abbreviated first year) and has been forced to use a ton of those guys well before he would have liked to use them.
And so on Monday I asked Holgorsen about his recruiting, point blank. Is he comfortable with what he's gotten so far? Is he on track? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
"I think that's everybody's challenge across the country to try to amp your roster up,'' Holgorsen said. "We're redshirting about 30 guys right now, which some of those are walk-ons. Whether they develop into what we need or not, time will tell.
"But I think it's getting better. Your challenge is to get it better and I do think our recruiting has gotten better and I think it will continue to get better.''
The real question, though, is probably whether or not it's been any good so far. Again, there are two sides to that argument. Many will say it's obvious that Holgorsen's recruiting to date has been lousy. They will say 4-7 proves that.
And he will again argue that throwing unprepared players into the fire, no matter how good they might one day be, is no litmus test. I asked him if perhaps throwing even more of those untested newcomers to the fire might have made a difference in the won-loss record, even at the expense of their ultimate development. Perhaps a Shelton Gibson?
"I don't think that's true,'' Holgorsen said. "I think you redshirt them for a reason. I wish we'd been able to redshirt Marvin Gross, Darrien Howard, Jeremy Tyler . . . those guys need to be redshirted. You need those guys to develop.
"There's rare instances, like Daryl Worley and Wendell Smallwood and Daikiel Shorts, that can come in as true freshmen and play at a pretty good level. That's going to happen every now and then. But the majority of the time you want them redshirted, you want to develop them and then get them seasoned a couple of years into it. Those need to be your backups.''
Again, none of this is likely to change anyone's opinion. Nor am I attempting to. Maybe the players Holgorsen is recruiting aren't good enough. Maybe they're not good enough yet. Maybe we're deep into the total collapse of the program or the early stages of its renaissance.
The bottom line, though, is that unlike those who profess that Holgorsen is either an abject failure or a success story waiting to be written, I don't think it's clear either way.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.