MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — “Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is a great opportunity for our football program and will be an exciting event for our fans. Alabama is one of the top teams in college football history, and it will be a tough challenge for us.”
Those were Dana Holgorsen’s words back on May 17, 2012, the announcement date for a West Virginia-Alabama showdown in Atlanta. During the 831 days since, West Virginia stands three games under .500 and the Tide is 24-3, so the tough challenge looks even tougher now that kickoff looms four days away.
Vegas barely recognizes this as a contest at all, installing the Mountaineers as 26-point underdogs. Only four FBS teams are looking up at heavier spreads this weekend, and none of them hail from the soon-to-be-autonomous power 5:
Louisiana Tech (+38) at Oklahoma
SMU (+33) at Baylor
Southern Miss (+30) at Mississippi) State
Appalachian State (+34.5) at Michigan
That last one certainly conjures up stunning memories from the Big House in 2007, and a West Virginia upset this weekend might seem just as jaw-dropping to Alabama fans who are already planning to return to the Georgia Dome in December for some real competition.
Opening games, however, can turn squirrelly—especially when the favored team has an either-or quarterback platoon in the works. Then there’s the fresh recollection of how Alabama’s aura of invincibility was punctured by Oklahoma last January. (During WVU’s wholly alarming 11-14 stretch the past two seasons, it had two very real opportunities to beat the Sooners.)
“You can throw away favorites or underdogs,” Holgorsen said Tuesday, posturing WVU as a different, deeper and more confident team than the one that lost eight games in 2013. That’s one more loss than the Tide has absorbed in its last five seasons.
For West Virginia, projected eighth in the Big 12, there might not be a faster path back to relevance than Saturday’s game, and Holgorsen recognizes the ramifications.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to get it on on Saturday,” he said.
To that end, some luck might be a prerequisite, but luck generally is the product of preparation. Holgorsen was asked if WVU installed a field goal-return play for Alabama, and he grinned through his reply:
“No. That would be ridiculous. Why would anybody want to do that?”