West Virginia, a team needing wins in its final two games to earn bowl eligibility, couldn’t ask for a better do-or-die slate.
The Mountaineers will finish the regular season against Kansas and Iowa State, a pair of teams that have a combined 3-15 record this year and haven’t won a Big 12 game.
After a 47-40 overtime loss to Texas last Saturday put West Virginia’s season on the brink, the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) travel to Lawrence, Kan., for a noon kickoff today at Memorial Stadium.
West Virginia coaches and players did their weekly duty of building up the opponent, making each new foe appear the Big 12 favorite or, at the very worst, a serious dark horse.
“We’ve got our hands full,” coach Dana Holgorsen said.
“They’re definitely a team you can’t overlook,” redshirt senior defensive end Will Clarke said.
“They’re going to be a challenging opponent,” junior quarterback Paul Millard said.
At some point, though, the praises of the Jayhawks and their tough run defense became rather unconvincing, as the numbers show.
Kansas (2-7, 0-6) is on a six-game losing streak and has lost 27 consecutive Big 12 games. That vaunted run defense ranks 93rd in Division I, allowing 192.5 rushing yards per game.
The Jayhawks’ most recent conference victory was a 52-45 win against Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010. Before that was an 11-game skid, adding up to 38 losses in Kansas’ past 39 Big 12 games.
“They’ve competed in every Big 12 game this year, much like we have,” Millard said.
In truth, Kansas hasn’t scored more than 19 points in any conference game and has lost by deficits of 10, 15, 22, 36, 38 and 45.
“They’re not any different than any team we’ve played,” Clarke said anyway. “We can’t look past them.”
West Virginia, a defense that has forced the nation’s sixth-most turnovers (25), will face a pair of quarterbacks in freshman Montell Cozart and junior Jake Heaps. Neither has established himself as the No. 1.
The Mountaineers have quarterback questions of their own, as starter Clint Trickett had a concussion against Texas and was replaced by Millard. Holgorsen hasn’t named a starter for today but did say Trickett was cleared to play.
“It’s the Big 12,” redshirt senior center Pat Eger said. “Most of the games are close. It comes down to a couple plays here and a couple plays there, that’s the bottom line.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.