Mountaineer football: A year of ups and downs

Chapin Jewell
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
The view from the press box at Milan Puskar Stadium is a good one. From his seat there, News Tribune sports writer Chapin Jewell has witnesses some ups and downs this year.
Chapin Jewell

When the curtain fell on the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, on Dec. 28, the West Virginia Mountaineers had fallen victim to the Minnesota Golden Gophers by a score of 18-6.

While not the ending we wanted, if we’re being honest, it’s the ending we should have expected in a year with ups and downs…more downs than ups.

With one of the top-ranked defenses in all of college football, and a punishing ground game on the offensive side of the ball, Minnesota, we knew, would present a tough matchup for the Mountaineers. Adding in the news that Leddie Brown, arguably West Virginia’s top offensive weapon, would be sitting the game out, the challenge grew even larger.

18-6 in favor of Minnesota, it surely could have been worse. Nonetheless, the bowl game loss was in many ways a reflective capstone, and sample, of what the season had to offer.

West Virginia finished with an overall losing record of 6-7, and a losing record in Big 12 play of 4-5. At 5-7 in his inaugural season of 2019, 6-4 in his second year of 2020, and 6-7 this year, Neal Brown now sits with an overall record of 17-18 at West Virginia, that produces a wining percentage south of .500, not the results we’re looking for.

In his defense, Neal Brown inherited a Mountaineer not necessarily in total shambles, but one in which the cupboard was considered considerably bare. Starting at a disadvantage, reasonable fans had to understand it would take a few years to see positive results. In West Virginia, let’s face it, not all of us are “reasonable.”

Which brings us to the ultimate question. Can we, should we, continue to “Trust the Climb?” At 17-18 under Brown, but more particularly fresh off a letdown season that saw our record fall and not improve, to answer this question, it’s fair to first ask, are we really “climbing” at all.

Personally, I’m not ready to bail on Neal Brown. But I’d be lying if I said my patience awaiting better results out of Morgantown is wearing somewhat thin.

But still, despite waning patience, you won’t find me bashing Brown, his fellow assistants, the players, or anything Mountaineer football. I want only the best for West Virginia, and I’m not convinced any bashing does anything positive for the program. There are people in place, namely athletic director Shane Lyons, who are no doubt monitoring the state of the program, and will make business decisions they feel are best for the Mountaineer brand.

In Mineral County and in surrounding counties, we’ve got some of our own boys playing over there. Hampshire grad Evan Staley just wrapped up a solid career there. Fort Hill’s Danny King has a bright remaining, and who knows, may pick up where Staley left off. Then of course are the Keyser boys, Shawn See and Caden Biser, also of Morgantown. We only want the best for these guys for sure.

Were there lows? Yes, it was a season chock full of lows. Chief among them were the losses to Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Minnesota. From that batch of losses, the ones that sting the most have to be the season opening loss to Maryland by six points, the three-point, literal last second loss at Oklahoma, and the three-point loss to Texas Tech at home the following week.

Were there highs? Yes, there were a few. Perhaps none was bigger than the 27-21 victory over long-time rival Virginia Tech in Morgantown, giving the Mountaineers the Black Diamond Trophy back, and of course bragging rights over Hokie fans. Then of course there was the win over a ranked Iowa State squad, also in Morgantown. Then finally, it’s always good when you can beat Texas, #hornsdown.

Ups and downs. That’s the life of many programs. You take the bad with the good, but you hope, of course, there will be more good than mad. Let’s face it, we have high expectations for Mountaineer football, we’ve seen them be historically successful, why shouldn’t we.

But are our expectations too high, or, are we expecting better results too quickly? One serious concern, and it’s a statistic that sticks out so much it can’t be overlooked, is the large number of players leaving the program.But remember, the portal has the potential to giveth as much as it taketh away.

West Virginia Mountaineer football in 2021, it wasn’t great, but it could have been worse.