WVU football: Schedule has not been kind to Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - What Dana Holgorsen knew about his team before the start of the 2013 season was the sort of thing that could at least partially explain West Virginia's 3-3 record at the midpoint.
"I knew we were going to be a work in progress," he said. "I knew it, and everybody knew it. I wanted it to come together quicker."
What the Mountaineers coach didn't know is what can explain the rest of it. By any measure, they've played one of the hardest schedules in the country. Saturday's Homecoming game (noon, Fox Sports 1) against No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) is WVU's fourth game against a ranked team.
Only Georgia, California and Kentucky can say the same.
"You get used to it," Holgorsen said. "It won't catch us by surprise."
The combined game day record of WVU's first five opponents is 14-4. The four losses among the opposition is the second-lowest total in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Old Dominion has played a schedule with three losses scattered among opponents, but the Monarchs are transitioning to the FBS this season and only have 10 games that count toward the NCAA's strength of schedule formula.
In short, WVU, Utah, Georgia and Washington have played the most successful FBS opponents this season. The WVU opposition's 77.8 percent winning percentage is No. 5 nationally.
"This is nothing new to us," Holgorsen said. "It's the fourth time we've played an undefeated team ranked in the top 20. What's great about the Big 12 is if you weren't successful the last time you played a quality opponent, you get to play another one next week."
In the Big 12, Oklahoma was No. 16 the night it beat WVU and was unbeaten and No. 12 before losing Saturday to Texas. The Mountaineers beat No. 11 and unbeaten Oklahoma State a week before they were thumped at No. 17 Baylor on Oct. 5. The Bears, now ranked No. 12, and Texas Tech are two of the nation's 14 remaining undefeated teams.
In between a win against Georgia State and the win against Oklahoma State was a 37-0 loss to Maryland. The Terrapins used that to break into the polls for the first time since 2009. They were ranked No. 25 before suffering their first loss, 63-0 to Florida State, two weeks ago.
The record of WVU's cumulative opposition is 29-18 and the 61.7 percent winning percentage is No. 17 nationally and leads the Big 12.
"It's college football," Holgorsen said. "That's why it's the most popular thing out there. A lot of people have emotions involved and so many people care about what happens on Saturday. It's incredibly competitive and it's probably never been as competitive as it is right now.
"It's tough. Everyone is doing the same stuff. You're trying to get guys ready to win and when that doesn't happen, it's a huge letdown. You try to get guys ready to win at the highest level you possibly can, or you're not going to be successful, which is kind of where we are right now. We've been as high and as low as you possibly can get."
WVU has its third loss earlier than any season since starting 1-3 in 2003. The Mountaineers played four ranked teams in the 2012 regular season, but the last time that happened before then was 2007.
WVU could play a fifth game against a ranked team if Texas keeps winning before traveling to Mountaineer Field on Nov. 9. The Mountaineers last played five ranked teams in the regular season in 1994, and they finished that season 7-6. WVU played five ranked teams combined in the 2009-11 seasons.
"When is this team going to get some consistency to it?" Holgorsen said. "That's the next step. We need to get a win to get to that."
The Mountaineers have a chance. At 1-2 in the Big 12 and tied for sixth with TCU in the conference standings, they play two of their final six games against teams ahead in the standings.
Those games against Texas Tech and Texas are home games.
The road games against Kansas State (3:45 p.m. on Fox Sports 1), Kansas and TCU are against teams a combined three games under .500 and 1-7 in the Big 12.
Whether WVU enjoys good fortune in the second half of the season is likely attached to whether the Mountaineers get consistent play at quarterback. They've started Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett two games each.
Childress and Trickett are both dealing with right arm issues. Holgorsen gave Trickett and his throwing shoulder time off last week during practices in the open week while Childress, who tore the pectoral muscle on his throwing side against Maryland, practiced more last week than he had during the two weeks following the injury.
Holgorsen said his decision about who starts against the Red Raiders will be based on this week's practices.
"They say they feel better, but feeling better and being able to go out there and throw 250 balls and run the offense is a different story," he said. "We'll see how the limb handles a full day, but we've got to get one of them to where they can take a bunch of reps in practice and take us into a game. It's not just about being able to play Saturday. It's about all the prep work that goes into that all week."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.