Have you ever played the "What If" game?
That is exactly what fans of the Mountaineers are doing these days since WVU's meltdown from being one of football's elite-ranked as high as No. 5 by the Associated Press-to receiving not a single vote in any poll following this past weekend's 55-34 debacle at Oklahoma State.
While it is easy to understand the frustration felt (list my name among this group), wondering how well the old gold and blue would have done if it had stayed in the Big (East) Least isn't going to make the next few weeks go any faster or make the coaches and players, coach and play harder.
It would be impossible to believe that this Mountaineer squad, even with the weaknesses we have witnessed over the last four games, wouldn't be in the thick of the race for a third consecutive Big East title-seventh over the last 10 seasons.
Yes, there would be stumbling blocks along the way. But, playing a Rutgers team that you have a 33-4-2 series margin over at home, isn't something that would strike fear in the hearts of the WVU faithful, leaving a road contest at Louisville as the one game that could potentially upset the apple cart and keep the old gold and blue out of the Big East's automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series. Yet the Mountaineers have beaten Louisville on 10 of 13 occasions.
What about the Orange from Syracuse University, you ask?
Sure, WVU has dropped the last two games to that team from 'upper New York' and trails in the series by a 32-27 margin, but, after watching the Orange on at least two occasions this fall, it would be hard to believe, let alone accept, a third straight loss to the Orange.
Other stumbling blocks? Sure, that has been the Mountaineers' history.
Only twice did West Virginia go unscathed in Big East play. Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen accomplished the feat in 1993 en route to an undefeated (11-0) regular season while one of his former players, Rich Rodriguez, won all seven of his Big East contests on the way to beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl during the 2005 campaign.
Want to keep playing?
Let's go one step further. What if that coach (the one that left for Michigan) would have kept his promise and stayed at his alma mater? Three straight years of finishing in the Top 10 had the Mountaineer program perched to become one of the nation's elite programs.
Instead the next three years saw WVU finish 23rd, 22nd and unranked in the final national poll.
Isn't this fun?
What if the most successful head coach since Nehlen had elected to remain in Morgantown and the Director of Athletics had been the one to leave WVU?
Some fans would respond that the program would be on probation.
Others would counter that the program was never in better hands and that the NCAA was just picking on WVU because the Mountaineers were becoming a nationally recognized name.
Then, again, what if......