MORGANTOWN - Four months and 13 games later, it's probably time to admit the painfully obvious.
The West Virginia football team that just finished an excruciating season by losing six of its final eight games just wasn't very good. In fact, it wasn't much better than average, if that.
About the only thing it was, was hyped. It was hyped - to a degree by locals, but to an even greater degree by the national press - because it had three really good football players. A quarterback and two receivers will draw that kind of attention, especially when they play for a coach considered to be a hot shot, up-and-coming offensive genius.
But as good as Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are - all three figure to go in the first two or three rounds of April's NFL draft - and as successful as Dana Holgorsen has been in quickly getting his offense up and running at his various stops, that doesn't change one very important thing that became more and more obvious as the season wore on.
No one else was nearly as good as those three.
OK, maybe that's overstating it. Try this: Far too many of those around Smith, Austin and Bailey were just average players or not even that. And Holgorsen and his hand-picked coaching staff did very little to either elevate their play or cover up their weaknesses.
Thus a 3-0 start cobbled together against the likes of second-tier teams from Conference USA (Marshall) and the ACC (Maryland) and an FCS opponent (James Madison) was fool's gold, which should have been obvious given that of the three, only Marshall did not really put up much of a fight. Then Baylor gained 700 yards and nine touchdowns and lost only because it gave up 807 and 10. A dysfunctional Texas team that would go on to be smashed to bits by Oklahoma shortly thereafter lost to the Mountaineers only because the Longhorns couldn't execute a shotgun center snap.
No, the way West Virginia lost to Texas Tech and Kansas State (a combined 104-28) wasn't truly indicative of this team's abilities, either. Just as the first five games provided false hope of how good the Mountaineers might be, the next two were an anomaly, as well, given the absence of a healthy Bailey in both.
The final five games were just about perfect, though. West Virginia's offense played as well as it could for the most part, but at times showed serious problems with offensive line play, running the football or even throwing it because of those first two issues. The defense was absolutely horrid and never, ever got any better and the kicking game, save for Austin's occasional return, was abysmal.
And then came Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse, when everything finally came together. And no, that's not a good thing. The offense couldn't do anything because Smith couldn't be protected. And when he was, conditions made throwing the football risky. The defense was again horrid, this time completing the puzzle by failing to stop the run, the one thing most teams hadn't been able to do against the Mountaineers. And the special teams had kicks blocked, others go out of bounds and saw flags while trying to return every other Syracuse kickoff.
And if the resultant 38-14 loss to a team that went 7-5 in the Big East wasn't enough - let's dispense with the notion that WVU's ascension to the Big 12 was the primary reason for a 7-6 record - then perhaps this is the clincher: West Virginia knew what Syracuse was going to do on offense and couldn't stop it.
We're not talking about just theory here, that the Mountaineers knew the Orange would run the football. They knew the plays. They knew before the ball was snapped where it was going. Sometimes they knew who was going to carry it. They knew how it would be blocked.
And they couldn't stop it.
"There is absolutely nothing better than to hear a defense call your play and you still go for seven," said Syracuse center Macky MacPherson. "That's when you know you're kicking their [butts]."