Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: The Mountaineers are well on their way to disproving preseason pessimism

A third of the way through the 2023 season, West Virginia has more or less disproven its dismal preseason projections.

The Mountaineers were notably picked to finish last in the 14-team Big 12 and some people even thought of them as just a one-win team. But, WVU has won three of its first four games and is positioned well in a weaker-than-expected Big 12 conference.

“I’m not shocked we’re 3-1,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said Monday. “I thought we had a chance. Nobody else wanted to listen but I thought we had a chance.”

While wins over Duquesne, Pitt and Texas Tech haven’t exactly attracted national attention for WVU, the perception of the Mountaineers has definitely risen over the first month of the season. ESPN’s internal projections have WVU favored in half of its remaining games (at Houston, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. BYU and at Baylor) and have a fifth game as a toss-up (vs. Cincinnati). Winning three of those games would put the Mountaineers back in bowl-game qualification and far out of the basement of the conference.

The new projections are nice, but Brown knows they don’t really mean anything.

“We’ve got to prove that we’re a contender,” Brown said. “We’re 1-0 (in the Big 12) but I’m not sure we’ve grabbed national attention or anything yet. We’ve got to continue to win games.”

To get back into the national spotlight, however, Brown knows they need to aim higher than just qualifying for a bowl game.

“You’ve got to go win,” Brown said. “The whole goal is you get into November with a chance to win your league. That’s the way we talk about it. I’m not sitting in the team meetings saying that but from a staff standpoint, that’s the goal.

“To do that, you’ve got to defend your home turf, which we’ve done so far, and then you’ve got to go beat quality teams on the road.”

This week’s game at TCU (8 p.m./ESPN2) will serve as WVU’s first real test of the season in the Big 12 and its first chance to make some noise in the conference.

TCU was picked fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll, with three first-place votes. The Horned Frogs have recovered from a week-one loss to Colorado to win three in a row and sit at 3-1, just like WVU. They represent a clear step up in competition from Pitt and Texas Tech.

A win in Fort Worth would not only give WVU a fairly big upset in the Big 12, but it would also all but guarantee the Mountaineers would qualify for a bowl game, needing just two more wins in their last seven games, not to mention a 2-0 start in league play.

“I think this is about proving if we’re going to be a contender in the league or not,” Brown said. “They were one of the favorites in the preseason and we’re going on the road in a tough environment and we need to take advantage of that opportunity.”

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