MORGANTOWN - This was supposed to be the week the Big 12 football championship was decided.
It won't be, of course, or at least not in Morgantown.
While upstart Kansas State tries to continue its march not only to the league championship but the BCS title game, neither preseason No. 1 Oklahoma nor West Virginia, the runner-up in the summer poll of the Big 12 media, has lived up to expectations.
They meet in just the kind of setting that the preseason forecasts predicted - a Saturday night game at Mountaineer Field on national television - but Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1) is out of the national title hunt predicted by a preseason No. 4 ranking and West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) is just plain out.
Oh, the Sooners are still good (No. 13 in the Associated Press poll, one spot higher in the BCS rankings) and still have visions of a BCS bowl berth (at-large if not automatic). But home losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame might still define their season.
West Virginia? The definition of its season is apparently still in the works. It is no doubt that a team that began the season 5-0 and with a Top-5 ranking and the Heisman Trophy favorite ultimately fell off a cliff. But will it be with a four-game losing streak, a five-game skid or perhaps more?
It has reached four now after last Saturday's 55-34 meltdown at Oklahoma State and the Sooners are a double-digit favorite to make it five. All of which leaves second-year WVU coach Dana Holgorsen fighting just to keep his team interested, much less competitive.
"That's kind of your goal every week, to get your guys ready to play, to get your guys excited to play,'' Holgorsen said. "You start to lean on some of your seniors at this point to finish the year strong.
"We're still fighting for the same thing we were a week ago or a couple weeks ago, which is just to try to get better each week. Try to win the game, try to improve your bowl status and try to figure out why we play this game that we love. That's a challenge every week. And when you start getting a couple of losses on top of each other, that challenge becomes a little bit greater.''
In recent weeks, Holgorsen's tack, in part at least, has been to motivate through playing time. Two weeks ago, he revamped his defensive player rotation, going with backups - and in some cases walk-ons or former walk-ons - in an effort to both find new energy and perhaps light some fires in those who sat.
In Stillwater on Saturday, he did the same on offense, most notably at receiver. Redshirt freshman Connor Arlia and fifth-year senior Ryan Nehlen played early, often and rather successfully. Arlia caught three passes for 25 yards, including a diving sideline catch to convert a third down. Nehlen caught four passes for 26 yards and just the second touchdown of his career.
"We're looking for bodies that play with a tremendous amount of effort and it means a lot to them,'' Holgorsen said. "We will continue to look for guys that bring effort, bring energy and get out there and play hard because playing the game of football means a lot to them.''