MORGANTOWN — A fistful of questions as No. 13 West Virginia visits No. 17 Texas:
Are the Mountaineers primed for their huge November?
Their backloaded Big 12 schedule contains all the tell-tale trappings of a make-or-break stretch. But the Black Friday showdown against Oklahoma, the noisy trip to Stillwater and the pot of revenge stewing up for TCU — none of those will matter much if things go sour in Austin.
This has the feel of an elimination game for West Virginia, which stands 19-16 in road games under Dana Holgorsen.
Will Grier’s stabilizing performance against Baylor last week provides hope that the offense can carry the water in a shootout. Tony Gibson’s defense has exceeded all expectations by leading the Big 12 in points allowed.
Will DKR bring the noise?
Despite its 100,119 seats and a video board viewable from space, Royal-Memorial Stadium isn’t always known for being raucous. To be fair, the atmosphere is proportional to the success of the program, and now that Tom Herman has Texas ranked again, you can expect a better vibe.
The electricity sure was kicking in 2012 when 101,851 witness WVU winning 48-45, a matchup that just happened to be the last meeting in which both programs were ranked.
Saturday’s game is a sellout, the second this season for the Longhorns, so Bevo might need earplugs.
Dare we mention the College Football Playoffs?
It might seem like a pipe dream, with WVU situated at No. 13 in the debut of the committee’s rankings, but history demands an open mind.
In 2015, Oklahoma stood 15th in the first rankings, before zooming up to No. 4 thanks to three straight wins. Those Sooners lacked a 13th data point because they didn’t have the benefit of a Big 12 championship game. That gives WVU a strand of hope after dropping a regular-season game at N.C.State because of Hurricane Florence.
If the Mountaineers win out — presumably beating Oklahoma twice — that 11-1 mark would place them squarely in the margins.
(Then again, Holgorsen is 9-19 against ranked teams, and a win-out scenario would include at least three of those.
What’s up with the injured players?
Perhaps Quondarius Qualls can lend a hand on third down. Maybe Brendan Ferns can assist at Mike. And if Dylan Tonkery was close enough to be a game-time decision last Thursday, surely he’ll be ready to line up for real 10 days later.
Texas also could regain a defender.
Malcolm Roach, a linebacker in a defensive end’s body, hasn’t played since suffering a broken foot against USC on Sept. 15. While next week’s Texas Tech game figures to be a safe return date, Herman said it’s possible the 270-pounder sees action against West Virginia. Roach made a career-best seven tackles in 2016 during WVU’s 24-20 win in Austin.
Now back to Qualls and Ferns, guys sidelined since ACL injuries in spring.
“They are now ready to play, but we have to go out and practice,” Holgorsen said. “I’m not saying they’re playing or starting or any of that. We have to go out and practice and see how it looks. If they help us, then we’ll play them. If they’re not ready to go, and they can’t help us, then we won’t play them.”
Linebacker David Long provided the best intel this week when he said he had not seen Qualls or Ferns practicing.
Who’s watching out for Breckyn Hager in victory formation?
“Oh yeah, I’ll take that on,” receiver David Sills said.