MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In sage deference to Mother Nature and her violent 120-mph winds, the West Virginia-N.C. State game was called off Tuesday.
Hurricane Florence, looking magnificent from space and horrifying to everyone within its path, churned too big to risk a football game this weekend. Regardless where the storm ultimately tracks, there can be no debating that emergency-response personnel should be focused on the actual emergency at hand, and that hotel rooms booked by football fans are better utilized by coastal residents fleeing inland.
The schools greeted an act of God with an act of prudence, punting this game early in the week as the Atlantic storm intensified. A day later retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who commanded military relief efforts during Katrina, warned that Florence could strike the coast “like a weapon of mass destruction.”
Instead of watching Will Grier play this weekend, it’s Jim Cantore working against the wind.
Players understood the gravity of the situation, though the football-half of their brains couldn’t help but entertain some what-ifs.
“This sucks, I was ready to play,” said safety Dravon Askew-Henry.
“I just heard the news as I was walking in here,” the North Carolina native Grier said Tuesday. “We were preparing to play N.C. State this weekend, full go, up until this point.”
Transfer defensive end Jabril Robinson, who grew up near Wilmington, N.C., planned on having “a lot of family members going to see this one.” The former Clemson player also anticipated a rematch against N.C.State offensive linemen Terrone Prescod and Tyler Jones.
“Playing against No. 70 and 53 was going to be a relief because I feel like last lear I didn’t give all I had to them. I was definitely looking forward to this one.”
Now the question becomes whether the Mountaineers will look backward at this game and regret not rescheduling it. With only 11 regular-season games, and a 12th to follow should it reach the Big 12 title game, West Virginia will lack the now-infamous “13th data point” that prevented TCU or Baylor from reaching the College Football Playoff in 2014.
Hard to envision an 11-1 WVU team being selected over 12-1 counterparts from other leagues. Even an 11-2 SEC champ likely would trump the Mountaineers.
That may seem too fanciful a dilemma to hypothesize, but athletics director Shane Lyons said he plans on West Virginia being in Dallas for the Big 12 championship, which could have his program in the conversation for a playoff bid. Earning that bid becomes more difficult without beating N.C. State.
Lyons enlisted valid talking points about why rescheduling the Wolfpack is difficult. N.C. State’s off week arrives Oct. 13, and WVU is idle Oct. 20. If one team could shift a conference game, those off weeks would sync up — but neither school (or conference) seems willing to attempt the shuffle.
Lyons also emphatically opposes the notion of playing Oct. 20 with an ensuing Thursday night matchup against Baylor: “Anybody that knows football knows I’m not going to play a game on Saturday and turn back around to play a game on Thursday night. That’s not an option.”
N.C. State purposefully scheduled such an option by hosting Florida State on Nov. 3 and Wake Forest on Nov. 8, though it should be noted, the Wolfpack and Demon Deacons are both operating on short weeks. (Baylor would have a 12-day prep to WVU’s five under the Oct. 20 do-over model.)
So no, it’s not easy to make up the game, especially a nonconference variety where the outcome doesn’t impact the standings. And West Virginia, should it run the table at 12-0, would be impossible to omit from the CFP. But 11-1? That’s iffy. Unless you’re Dana Holgorsen.
“I get asked the question, ‘Oh my gosh, if you don’t play N.C. State, you’re not going to have a quality win.’ Well, Tennessee is in the SEC, that’s a quality win,” he said. (How much quality depends on how many SEC wins the Vols acquire. They acquired zero last year.)
Though Holgorsen contends “I don’t make the decisions,” his perspective clearly colored WVU’s stance on rescheduling:
“We’ll play at 3:30 on Saturday, or we won’t play,” he said. “We cannot do anything to put ourselves in any kind of a disadvantage whatsoever to play any Big 12 football game.”
Understood — the Big 12 round-robin takes priority. Whether Florence creates a disadvantage with the CFP committee, however, won’t be decided until hurricane season has ended.