MORGANTOWN — Two weeks remain in the regular season. And with so much of the journey now completed, West Virginia fans can start doing something that would have felt reckless just a few weeks ago.
It’s time to start dreaming of a possible playoff opportunity.
Dreams are different than expectations. In terms of opponents left on the schedule, perhaps no team left in the playoff conversation has a tougher remaining road to the College Football Playoff than the Mountaineers. No one should hold their breath waiting for West Virginia to receive an invite.
But if West Virginia does win out, that challenging path — at Oklahoma State, against Oklahoma and then an opponent to be determined in the Big 12 championship game — represents the best argument that this team is playing at an elite level.
Nevertheless, the No. 9 Mountaineers still need plenty of help to climb the minimum of five spots needed to reach the playoff. So here is a guide to which teams you should root for as you check your phones for score updates over the next couple Saturdays.
Every Mountaineer fan should be yelling “Roll Tide” at this point. Barring two losses, Bama is safely in at this juncture. The SEC championship game is already set, and a Crimson Tide loss to No. 5 Georgia would severely hinder West Virginia’s chances since it would likely put both the Tide and Bulldogs in.
Another team that it’s hard to see missing the field without two losses. But there is a possibility that looms as amusing or sickening, depending on your sense of humor. Clemson will likely face Pitt in the ACC championship game. And a neutral-site loss to unranked Pitt would certainly look worse than West Virginia’s road loss to No. 22 Iowa State. Meaning you would have to root for the Panthers to beat Clemson.
But will you?
The Fighting Irish celebrated the 25th anniversary of the “Game of the Century” by pounding Florida State. But the best way to really capture the spirit of the thing would be to lose to a team from the northeast the following week. In ’93 it was Boston College. This week it could be Syracuse in a game randomly placed at Yankee Stadium. A follow-up loss at USC for good measure would be nice, too — and potentially more damaging since the Orange are actually ranked.
Indiana hasn’t beaten Michigan since 1987. But you’ll need either the Hoosiers or Big Ten West champ Northwestern to knock off the Wolverines, because No. 10 Ohio State figures to leapfrog back over the Mountaineers should it beat No. 4 Michigan.
As noted above, a Bulldogs loss to Alabama — the bigger the better — would probably be all the help West Virginia needs. But feel free to encourage Georgia to lose to Georgia Tech, too.
A Sooners loss to Kansas this week would be catastrophic to West Virginia’s quality of schedule since it would force OU to drop football and forfeit the remainder of the season.
If West Virginia wins out, the two-loss Tigers will not be a factor. It would not be a surprise to see the committee push the Mountaineers ahead of LSU as soon as Tuesday, but a conference title should certainly make the difference in the long run. LSU can’t win one. West Virginia can. But you can still root for Rice or Texas A&M to beat the Tigers if you wish.
It’s hard to see West Virginia beating Oklahoma two times in eight days — and vice versa.
The Longhorns have a tiebreaker on the Sooners, so that would be WVU’s opponent should the Mountaineers and Horns win out. Facing the Texas secondary with a presumably championship-caliber officiating crew seems more doable than a back-to-back win scenario.
On a more practical level, Texas also holds the key to West Virginia reaching the Big 12 championship should it lose to Oklahoma in the finale. A two-loss Iowa State team would have a tiebreaker over the two-loss Mountaineers. Texas can eliminate that problem for West Virginia this week, provided the Mountaineers help themselves at Oklahoma State.