MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When asked what he’s thankful for this holiday season, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen thought for a few moments before answering.
It has been a particularly difficult season. The Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) have lost five of their past six games, haven’t won consecutive games in 12 months and will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2001 — and for Holgorsen, the first time in his coaching career.
Holgorsen did eventually come to a conclusion. He closed his weekly news conference by saying he was thankful for two things — his 14 seniors and the Big 12 Conference
The seniors because they have fought and clawed through a fruitless final season. Their careers will come to a close Saturday in a meeting with Iowa State (2-9, 1-7) at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Big 12 because it has made the Mountaineers “relevant.”
“I’m thankful for the Big 12; I really am,” Holgorsen said. “It’s challenging, but we’re relevant and we’re learning a lot about ourselves. It seems like I always complain about it as far as where we’re at, but that’s not true.”
Holgorsen thinks the right pieces, be they schemes or coaches or players, are starting to shift into place and will make West Virginia “extremely competitive” in the conference.
“I think we’re a better football team this year than we were last year, minus maybe one or two guys,” Holgorsen said.
Iowa State visits Morgantown on a high after shutting out Kansas, 34-0, on Saturday, just one week after the hapless Jayhawks beat the Mountaineers, 31-19, for their first Big 12 win since 2010.
Holgorsen called the Cyclones “the best 2-9 team in the country.”
Quarterback Clint Trickett took it a step further: “They are the best 2-9 football team in the history of football.”
With no bowl to play for, Holgorsen said West Virginia will play for its seniors.
“They’re a collection of guys that have been through a lot of adversity,” Holgorsen said. “They’ve been through coaching changes and conference changes, and I appreciate everything they’ve gone through.
“This year is different because there’s not a bowl game, so this is the last week we will spend together. We have to make it count.”
Despite focusing primarily on player development on their week off, Holgorsen said the Mountaineers won’t debut any new faces or trot out an unusually high number of young players simply to get them experience before next season.
“You only get a certain amount of games, and they’re all important,” Holgorsen said. “It wouldn’t be fair to our seniors or our fan base to not put our best foot forward in order to try to win the game.”
Millard or Trickett at QB
Trickett, who had a concussion Nov. 9 against Texas and admitted Tuesday he hid a previous concussion Oct. 26 against Kansas State, has been cleared to play in the season finale.
He will split snaps with junior Paul Millard in practice this week, though neither has been named the starter yet. Redshirt freshman Ford Childress (torn pectoral) will not be ready to play.
“I feel like we can win with either quarterback,” Holgorsen said. “Trickett has proven he can win some Big 12 games. Millard is working on the scheme and what we want him to do, and he’s progressing. “
Senior safety Darwin Cook (groin), senior tackle Curtis Feigt (undisclosed), sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bruce (undisclosed) and freshman cornerback Daryl Worley (calf) are listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.