FORT WORTH, Texas — The calendar says it is still 2019, but in order to realistically ascribe any meaning to West Virginia’s season finale, one must look forward to next year.
The Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) have no chance of making a bowl game, so the message is that finishing with a win will send the young team into the offseason with improved odds of making sure the team isn’t in the same position a year from now.
“We need to finish this on a positive note and send our seniors out on a positive note feeling good about what they’ve done,” said first-year West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “And then this is a great opportunity for us to have a building block moving into our offseason program, which is important.”
In some respects, a win here would be just as impressive as West Virginia’s upset over then-No. 23 Kansas State. The motivation is obvious for TCU (5-6, 3-5), which needs a win to reach a bowl game. The only thing on the line for the Mountaineers is pride.
As senior cornerback Keith Washington put it, his motivation is “last time putting on the Mountaineer uniform. The last time playing with my brothers on this team. And at the same time, you want to set an example for the younger guys coming up.”
Regardless of motivations, beating the Horned Frogs on their home turf is a tall order for this group of Mountaineers. Luck hasn’t been on TCU’s side in close games this season, with five of their losses coming by a touchdown or less including last week’s 28-24 defeat at Oklahoma.
As is so often the case, the Frogs have one of the Big 12’s best defenses. All 11 teams TCU has played were held below their season averages for total offense, and every one but Iowa State was held below its scoring average. That does not bode well for a West Virginia offense that has struggled to punch the ball into the end zone all season.
The Mountaineers enter the last game of the year among the country’s worst teams in many offensive categories. West Virginia is 129th out of 130 teams with 72.1 rushing yards per game, and 128th with 2.6 yards per carry. In the red zone, the Mountaineers rank 121st in touchdown percentage (46.9 percent).
“It’s a great challenge for us this week,” Brown said. “I look forward to finishing on a strong note.”
Few teams have done it better than Josh Growden and the Mountaineers this season. West Virginia ranks 10th nationally, allowing just 1.93 yards per return. But those stats are helped by the fact Growden has not yet punted to TCU’s Jalen Reagor.
Reagor rates as the nation’s second-best return man with an average of 18.4 yards on his 13 returns. For a TCU offense that can sometimes struggle scoring, his ability to flip the field or score in his own right is massive.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms are forecast for the entire length of the game. With Amon G. Carter Stadium having one of the few grass fields in the Big 12, the weather conditions will absolutely have an impact on the game. That figures to play to TCU’s natural strengths with the Horned Frogs ranking third in the league with 208.6 rushing yards per game.
West Virginia is coming off an impressive performance against Oklahoma State’s explosive rushing attack, but injuries have made depth a major issue for WVU’s defensive line.
TCU’s defense is aggressive — which means there’s a chance you can hear either fight song playing on any given play. The Horned Frogs are second in the Big 12 with 13 interceptions, including one they returned for a touchdown. But TCU has also allowed 27 plays of 30 or more yards this season, which is ninth in the Big 12.
If Jarret Doege can play smart football and take advantage of opportunities borne from TCU’s aggression, the Mountaineers have a shot.
PREDICTION: TCU 23, West Virginia 13