Path To The College Football Playoff: West Virginia Mountaineers
What does West Virginia have to do to get to the College Football Playoff?
What’s West Virginia’s path to get to the College Football Playoff?
2016 was supposed to be the year.
West Virginia had a talented, veteran team returning, the schedule wasn’t all that bad with most of the big games at home, and with just enough in place to go on a big run for the Big 12 title.
Even with a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers were still deep in the hunt for the College Football Playoff at 8-1 going into the home showdown against Oklahoma. They lost in a wild 56-28 shootout, but had they won, and if they beat Iowa State and Baylor like they did to finish 11-1 with a Big 12 title, yup – they would’ve been off to lose to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
That’s how close they came to getting into the show, but they didn’t get it done finishing 10-3, closing out with a blowout bowl loss to Miami.
Can they get back in the race again? Can they be just a bit better even with so many personnel changes?
What’s West Virginia’s path to the College Football Playoff?
Step One: Hope Will Grier Is Awesome
The Mountaineers have to find new receivers after losing top targets Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts, and they have to replace veteran QB Skyler Howard. That’s where Florida transfer Will Grier comes in, with tremendous hype and plenty of potential. He sat out the last year-and-a-half after getting busted for PEDs, but that might be a plus now.
With a year in the West Virginia program, he knows what he’s doing – get ready to see a guy play with something to prove. He’d better, considering the Mountaineers have to keep up the pace with the rest of a high-powered Big 12 loaded with great quarterbacks like Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, TCU’s Kenny Hill, and anyone who plays under center for Texas Tech.
Grier can be Tom Brady, though, and it won’t matter if West Virginia doesn’t …
Step Two: Load Up The Lines
The defensive line is a problem early on, with everyone gone from a good, productive group. It’s a young front, but it’ll be talented. The O line isn’t quite as big an issue, but it has to replace a few key players including star center Tyler Orlosky. Right out of the gate, though, the Mountaineers have to be great on both fronts, being able to hold on against the run on one side, and keeping Grier upright on the other, since they have to …
Step Three: Beat Virginia Tech, Or Else
West Virginia didn’t take it easy in non-conference play last year, but it wasn’t its fault that Missouri stunk and BYU was just okay. This season, it has relatively light battles with East Carolina and Delaware State, but those are after dealing with Virginia Tech in a terrific-looking opener in Landover, Maryland – where the Mountaineers beat BYU last year.
The Hokies have plenty of concerns on their own, but the defending ACC Coastal champs should have another great pass rush, and they should be in the race for the conference title again. Lose this, and West Virginia has to almost certainly run the 12-game table to get into the College Football Playoff. That won’t happen.
Step Four: Survive The Early Big 12 Road Stretch
Opening the conference season at Kansas isn’t bad, but that’s followed up by a road trip to face a refurbished TCU. Fortunately, there’s a week off to prepare for the Horned Frogs, but that’s it for the breaks the rest of the year.
Texas Tech is next, and then comes a date at Baylor to make it three road battles in four games. Considering the preseason top two teams in the Big 12 are still to play, West Virginia has to get through this alive. It has to get through this 7-0. And then …
Step Five: Take Advantage Of Second Half Home Stretch
Getting Oklahoma State in Morgantown is a positive, but that’s still a loaded team with a potentially dominant offense. Followed up by Iowa State, and with Texas rolling into town a few weeks after, it’s not easy, but they’re home games. None of those are givens, and neither is the road date at Kansas State thrown into the mix.
If West Virginia is somehow 11-0, then the regular season finale doesn’t really matter for the College Football Playoff hunt. If it’s 10-1, there’s still work to do, but it’ll be right there with a shot at getting in. Even at 9-2, all is not lost. That’s why the Mountaineers have to …
Step Six: Beat Oklahoma
However, depending on what happens up until the trip to Norman, there could still be a shot to get into the College Football Playoff no matter what, or be knocked out no matter what.
9-3, and forget it. However, if the Mountaineers finish the regular season 12-0 or 11-1, there’s still one more massive step to go. Even at 10-2 with a loss to the Sooners, there might be a chance to get in if West Virginia is able to …
Step Seven: Win The Big 12 Championship
Depending on what the other Power Five conferences do, 11-2 with a revenge win over Oklahoma might just be enough to get one of the big four spots. However, one of the problems if everything breaks right is a gimmicky new Big 12 Championship that could backfire on the league.
If West Virginia – or any Big 12 team – goes 12-0 or 11-1, it’s probably in the College Football Playoff. Lose the conference rematch – whatever that might be – in Arlington on December 2nd, and get knocked out.
So … What Are The Chances West Virginia Gets Into The 2017-2018 College Football Playoff?
The Mountaineers have a ton of flaws and concerns. The lines need some rebooting, the receiving corps is a concern, depth at running back might take a while to develop, and Grier has to be special. But even if none of that matters, the schedule is still too brutal.
Going to TCU, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma would be tough for anyone, and facing Virginia Tech, Texas, and Oklahoma State isn’t a picnic.
Is it a stretch, though, to be one regular season win better than last year and go 11-1? A little bit, but head Dana Holgorsen has proven he can crank out dangerous teams when few are paying attention.