MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Stop me if you've heard this before. A West Virginia team has a coach who has flashed offensive ingenuity throughout his career and coached in such a way that makes his players play a way like few others do.
It works really well one season with a team that's kind of young and maybe arrives a little earlier than it's supposed to. The next year, the preseason expectations are where they have not been in many years, but the team pushes back and gets off to a fantastic start and reaches a pretty special place in the national rankings.
And then everything goes wrong.
Obviously, I'm alluding to the 2012 WVU football team, but not speaking directly of it. That was the team that hit in a big way in January and won the Orange Bowl and stirred up all sorts of offseason momentum to be picked second in the Big 12 preseason poll and conjure up conversations about conference and even national championship possibilities.
And that's the team that started 5-0 and was in the top five for the first time in five years before losing three straight games and plummeting from the rankings for the first time in a year. The Mountaineers have been defeated and deflated and they say they've lost whatever it is that made them believe they were special once before.
"We've got to get our confidence back," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "We've lost our swagger. The best way to get it back is winning."
There is precedent and not in football. Back in 2004, John Beilein thought he'd have a pretty good team and the addition of Mike Gansey to the crew that won two games in the NIT a season before might make for something special. Sure enough, WVU started 10-0 with wins at LSU, where no one ever won in non-conference play, at home against ranked George Washington and on the road against a ranked and talented N.C. State team.
Those Mountaineers barreled into the polls at No. 21 after going unranked since March 1998. Then everything fell apart. WVU would later lose five in a row and seven of nine and lost the trust and faith in what once empowered them.
Beilein offered an explanation that transcends time and sports. "We're bothered that we're bothered," he said.
In so many ways, that's what's happening to WVU's football team, which has slipped to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the Big 12 entering Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2). Beilein's Mountaineers used spacing and precision and staggering confidence to bounce backdoor passes and hoist deep 3-pointers. They trusted that the offense would be good enough to overcome a zone defense patrolled by undersized layers that led to rebounding deficiencies.
When the buoyant self-belief sunk, so did performances.
These football Mountaineers space the field and use the vertical pass and the horizontal pass and the hot potato pass. They trust Holgorsen's schemes can overcome a defense that has plenty of deficiencies.