WVU set to face nation’s best

MORGANTOWN – You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t agree West Virginia has improved overall.

But in the end, will it matter?

I’m talking, of course, about the Mountaineers’ schedule, largely regarded as the toughest in the nation.

In the first four weeks, West Virginia will face two of the likely top five teams in the nation in Alabama and Oklahoma.

The Tide, if you remember, dropped their final two games of the 2013 season, including the Sugar Bowl in which the Sooners punched them square in the mouth.

Don’t think for a second Nick Saban’s squad isn’t itching to prove its dominance in its first game back on the gridiron.

The oddsmakers in Vegas already have the Tide as 27 1/2-point favorites. That number could rise in the next month.

Last season, West Virginia players discussed how they lost confidence after being embarrassed by Baylor, 73-42, in Waco late in the season.

Do they have the mental stability of bouncing back from a potential Week 1 thrashing? That’s yet to be seen.

In the Mountaineers’ favor, however, is a Week 2 matchup with FCS opponent Towson, the supposed ”cupcake” of the schedule. Keep in mind this is a Towson team that made an appearance in last year’s FCS National Championship game, which makes the Tigers look more like a muffin than a cupcake.

Next up is a trip Maryland, the first team to shut out WVU since 2001 with a 37-0 victory last season.

Then the Sooners come to Morgantown to start Big 12 conference play.

By the time West Virginia hits its first bye week, it could be carrying a 1-3 record. Not the greatest start to a season Coach Dana Holgorsen said he’s ”never been more excited about going into.”

You could mark a ‘W’ next to Kansas in Week 6, but after last year, I’d advise the mark to be in pencil.

Then the Mountaineers hit the heart of their Big 12 slate with games against Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Kansas State. The majority of those squads are likely to be ranked in the Top 25 come game day.

That leaves a final road trip to Iowa State, but again, you’re going to want to mark that outcome in pencil.

With the strength of this schedule, there’s a very distinct possibility Holgorsen and his squad will be home for the holidays for the second consecutive season.

The Vegas oddsmakers are in agreement as they’ve picked WVU as underdogs in seven of its 12 games.

It’s not all negative, though. There are positives.

The Mountaineers won’t be riding the quarterback carousel as Holgorsen announced a healthy Clint Trickett will be the starting quarterback.

In the three quarters Trickett wasn’t playing with a torn labrum, he led WVU to an upset victory of Oklahoma State, a game which in theory, kept the Cowboys out of the national championship game.

The Mountaineers also have more depth than last season. At all positions. That’s something that really could be the main factor in avoiding another sub-.500 season.

If you take a look at last season, when guys like Jared Barber and Doug Rigg went down with injuries, there was no experience behind them to help fill their shoes.

Depth will also play a role in every down situations. For instance, if a starter needs to come the sidelines to catch his breath, he can do so without worrying about his substitute giving up a big play. That’s also big on a mental standpoint as well.

This season will ultimately come down to how bad the Mountaineers want it. If you exclude Baylor and Maryland, West Virginia was competitive in several games last season. The ‘Eers just couldn’t close them out.

Will they do it this year? We’ll just have to wait and see.