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COLUMN: Who else could WVU fills its football schedule with?


July 20 was supposed to be the first day of Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but COVID-19 forced most to avoid the typical mid-summer Texas heat — though Morgantown was only three degrees cooler in comparison.

Moved to a virtual setting at first, media days were ultimately postponed from this week to early August.
Why? Because not many know the answers to what was bound to be asked.

As the college football season quickly approaches, major decisions need to be made within the next month, with the most obvious and important being, will there even be a college football season? We all certainly hope so, but with the amount of doom and gloom that has come out recently in terms of the college sports landscape, this column will be a bit of a reprieve from that: Let’s have a little fun.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already made the decision to cancel all nonconference football games, while the Big 12, ACC and SEC will likely make decisions on the same front in the near future. However, it seems all three conferences are trying to work together to take the sting out of a bad situation.

The Big Ten’s decision was the first wet blanket on the 2020 WVU football season, because it took a home game against a rival — Maryland — off the schedule. The ACC seemed close to making a similar call, which would eliminate the Mountaineers’ season-opener against Florida State in Atlanta.

But the SEC, which holds a lot of the cards in the college football landscape, wants to salvage as much as it can, but it may need the help of the Big 12 and ACC to do so. Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan told The Dominion Post last week the three leagues may be working together on a “plus-one” format — play all your conference games, plus one nonconference.

Let’s play along with a hypothetical situation, and this ruling is made official — what does it mean for WVU?
Florida State would likely opt out of its game with the Mountaineers to play Florida. Traditional rivalries would be the top choice among all parties, followed by already scheduled 2020 games. Clemson could play South Carolina, Kentucky could play Louisville and Georgia could play Georgia Tech. It would also allow Texas to play LSU and Kansas State to play Vanderbilt, etc.

As Stokan said, Georgia and Florida State were scheduled to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Virginia and West Virginia, respectively. If UGA and FSU want to play their rivalry games, it’s a no-brainer to pit WVU against UVA.

This is the obvious choice, with both teams already contracted to play in Atlanta, and both would like to fill their plus-one game with another Power 5 school.

But what else could the Mountaineers do if it had one nonconference game to play with? The next would be to simply keep the home game against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 12, but let’s keep with the trend of FBS programs.

If the ACC and SEC programs can play their traditional rivals, why not WVU? Right now, Pitt is not slated to play any Power 5 teams in the nonconference season with Miami (Ohio) and Marshall as the Panthers’ first two games. Pitt’s game with Richmond was postponed following the Colonial Athletic Conference’s decision to cancel its season. The Spiders could play as an independent, but it’s unlikely they’d make the trip to Pittsburgh.

Pitt’s opening with the loss of the Richmond game and WVU’s opening with the loss of the Maryland game just happen to line up perfectly, with both originally schedule for Sept. 19. Logistically, though, it would be hard to draw up a plan that works for both schools.

While it’s doubtful fans will be allowed anyway, deciding which school would be given the home game could spark an issue. The nonconference slate for 2021 is already full for both programs for a potential return trip, and a four-game series to resume the Backyard Brawl will begin in 2022. Still, it’s OK to have a little wishful thinking.

Stokan mentioned COVID-19 testing numbers and access should be easier for Power 5 programs since they have more financial stability. He believes that’s one of the biggest reasons the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already gone conference-only, testing will be considerably more consistent at the high levels than the Group of 5 of FCS can offer.

Still, could Marshall be a possibility? The Thundering Herd have an important season-opener at East Carolina, honoring the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of 75 players, coaches, fans, administrators and crew. The team was flying home from a game at ECU in 1970.

If Marshall has the choice of a plus-one game, it will be hard for the school to cancel that game in order to play WVU, so while the Thundering Herd could make sense, both parties would have to agree.

Much would have to go right and little go wrong over the next month to make these scenarios a reality, but right now, we have enough negativity to go around.

It’s nice to just sit back and think what could be this college football season, even if it’s not what we thought it would be.

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