MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia weighed in at No. 20 in the first-ever College Football Playoff rankings, and a number of teams ahead of the Mountaineers look quite familiar.
In compiling a 6-2 start, West Virginia has faced No. 6 Alabama, No. 13 Baylor and No. 18 Oklahoma. Yet to come are games against No. 7 TCU on Saturday and vs. No. 9 Kansas State on Nov. 20, both of whom have a legitimate shot to crash the national semifinals should they win out.
While it’s hard to envision any scenario whereby the Mountaineers climb into the Final Four discussion, they are riding a four-game winning streak and control their own destiny in the Big 12 title race. ESPN’s simulations give West Virginia a 9.6 percent chance of winning out, which is better odds than K-State (3.4 percent). TCU’s chance of going unbeaten over its final five games stands at 30.4 percent.
Kickoff time for West Virginia-TCU is 3:30 p.m. on ABC.
Shell’s return: Rushel Shell, sidelined for the past seven quarters after suffering a sprained ankle early in the Baylor game, was pronounced “ready to go” by running backs coach JaJuan Seider on Tuesday.
The sophomore remains fifth in Big 12 rushing with 503 yards and has six of West Virginia’s 14 touchdown carries.
“He was ready last week, but I didn’t play him because he didn’t practice,” Seider said. “And I didn’t think we’d need him, with four other guys who did practice ready to go.”
With Shell hurting, Wendell Smallwood has 43 carries the past two games, including a career-best 132 yards in the 34-10 win at Oklahoma State.
Bradley amazed by points: When Tom Bradley left Penn State after the 2011 season, six of his final seven units had ranked among the top 10 nationally in scoring defense. Putting aside the 2010 outlier, his Nittany Lions defenses allowed between 12.2 and 17.5 points per game.
So, life in the touchdown-friendly Big 12 has been eye-opening. For the second time in three weeks, West Virginia encounters a league foe that is averaging 50 points a game thanks to TCU posting 82 against Texas Tech.
“I feel bad for these stadiums,” Bradley cracked. “They’re going to have to buy new scoreboards because they’ve only got two digits, right? That’s a problem for the athletic directors who are going to have to go raise some more money.”
Reflecting on the heat: Think the impact of the heat in Stillwater was exaggerated? Well, even West Virginia’s contingent of southern natives were sapped by conditions.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been through a game that hot, especially this late in the year, and I’m a South Florida guy,” Seider said. “That was a different type of heat.”
The official kickoff temperature of 89 degrees eventually climbed to 92, setting a record-high for Oct. 25 in that area. Heat retention of the turf at Boone Pickens Stadium had the on-field temperature near 100.
“I’m from Miami, Fla., and I have never played in a game so hot,” said offensive tackle Marquis Lucas. ”Coach (Holgorsen) was making a big emphasis on hydrating and getting your rest all week, and I’m like, I’ve done played in 100-degree weather. But it affected all of us, especially up front. When you’re 300-plus it can get pretty rough, especially when you’re running those high-tempo plays.”