FORT WORTH, Texas - A week ago, when West Virginia needed three wins in its final five games to become bowl eligible, Dana Holgorsen said it hadn't necessarily become so urgent a situation that he needed to use the prospect of staying home for the holidays as motivation.
A week later, now that the Mountaineers have just four to play and still need three wins? Well, the tune is changing just a bit.
"Yeah, because that number is sneaking up on us it'll probably be used as motivation,'' Holgorsen said. "I feel like we have a lot to play for, and I think the players feel like they have a lot to play for.''
The reality is that the only way the Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) will stretch the program's bowl streak to 12 years is by winning three of the final four games and getting to at least 6-6. Teams with a losing record are ineligible for bowl games.
While coaches like to talk about one-game seasons, West Virginia's can actually be looked at as a couple of two-game seasons.
The final two games are at Kansas and home against Iowa State. While no 3-5 team can be considered a prohibitive favorite over anyone, if WVU can't handle 2-5 Kansas and 1-6 Iowa State in those games, well, a bowl game shouldn't even be a pipe dream.
So if the Mountaineers can win those last two, the immediate and crucial issue is not the big picture of winning three of four, but the more-compressed objective of winning one of the next two. First up is identically positioned TCU (3-5, 1-4) today at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Next week brings a visit from reenergized Texas in the first night game of the season at Mountaineer Field.
Does this team have even a chance? Well, Holgorsen isn't thrilled with the improvement the Mountaineers have shown through the first eight games, but there's been enough there to warrant optimism.
"We haven't finished well the past two weeks, but they've been competitive,'' Holgorsen said of lost second-half leads and games to Texas Tech and then Kansas State. "The game last week was a lot more competitive than what the final score indicated. It's not a moral victory to say we were in the game in the fourth quarter the past two weeks, but that's not my point. We're battling. It's just not a winning effort.''
TCU is a two-touchdown favorite today against the Mountaineers at home. That wouldn't be odd except that the Horned Frogs are barely averaging two touchdowns a game.
In five Big 12 games, TCU is averaging just 14.2 points. The Horned Frogs have scored two touchdowns in the last two games combined, losses of 24-10 to Oklahoma State and 30-7 to Texas.
"The bottom line is that you have to score more points,'' TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
What has kept TCU in games, of course, is its defense. Even without 2012 Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields - out for the season with an injured foot - the Horned Frogs are third in the Big 12 in total defense and first in sacks and interceptions.
Against West Virginia, TCU faces an offense that seems to run and throw the ball fairly equally, so that's a concern for Patterson.