Final points on a bad year

How quickly we forget.

The year was 1986. Hall of Fame head football coach Don Nehlen was entering his seventh season at the helm of the Mountaineer program. Up until that season, Nehlen never had suffered a losing season.

That would not be the case that year.

Several questions marks surrounding key offensive positions and a brutal schedule featuring contests with Miami (Fla.) and Penn State, who eventually would face one another for the national championship that season, had even the most optimistic fan wondering where the team would get the six wins needed to earn a postseason bowl berth.

Warning signs surfaced early as WVU struggled against Northern Illinois and against a terrible East Carolina team in Greenville.

Few realized, however, that the win over the Pirates would be the last the team would enjoy for nearly two months.

The streak finally came to an end in East Rutherford when Mike Timko took over the quarterback position and led the old gold and blue to a 24-17 win over Rutgers.

Two weeks later, just 40,000 fans showed up for the Mountaineers’ season finale against the Orange from the Syracuse.

One of the smallest crowds to watch a game at Mountaineer Field witnessed WVU jump out to a 17-7 lead only to have Don McPherson drive the Orange the length of the field in just 44 seconds before intermission as Syracuse came from behind for a 34-23 victory.

Two years later (1988) Nehlen would lead WVU to its first undefeated regular season and a berth in the national title game against Notre Dame.

  • Sound familiar? Maybe it should.

Few fans in attendance at Saturday’s WVU game with Iowa State (and there weren’t that many) are satisfied with what has been transpiring with their favorite college football team.

Many lay blame at the feet of the coaching staff. Others pointed to injuries and the uninspired play of the athletes. Some even placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Director of Athletics Oliver Luck for taking the program out of the ‘win-friendly’ Big East and into a Big 12 Conference that, following two losing campaigns, the Mountaineers appeared unable in which to compete.

Multiplying their frustrations was a season-ending game against an Iowa State team that was going nowhere and was only looking for its third win in 2013.

Few, if any, can argue with the intelligence of a Rhodes Scholar finalist. But, with upcoming contests slated with Penn State and Virginia Tech as well as the apparent attempts to get both Pitt and Marshall back on the Mountaineers’ future schedule, wouldn’t it make more sense to bring one of those programs to Morgantown for the season finale?

Let’s face it. The ‘Backyard Brawl’ always will draw a better crowd than a WVU-ISU or WVU-Kansas contest. Same could be said for a game between the Mountaineers and the Gobblers from VT.

WVU fans have given up a lot in the name of realignment. Give them a better reason than ISU to end the season.

Contact Jim Butta at jbutta@newsandsentinel.com