MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, it stood to reason that one day there would be a game against Texas with major implications.
Sure enough, it only took five weeks for it to happen. The No. 8 Mountaineers and No. 11 Longhorns met on the first weekend of October in that first season, setting the table for a potential rivalry in the making.
It did not become an annual tradition.
West Virginia’s 48-45 win ended up being an aberration that preceded a five-game losing streak and a 4-8 campaign in 2013. Texas dipped even further in the long run, firing both Mack Brown and Charlie Strong before turning to Tom Herman for the solution.
Six years later, both programs are back in the Top 25 for the first time since that initial meeting. West Virginia goes into the game ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25, while Texas is 15.
The stakes could not be more obvious. The teams are tied with Oklahoma atop the Big 12 standings, and the winner has a decisive leg up on a trip to the Big 12 championship game.
The game could have been even more meaningful than it is now, but Texas (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) bowed out of the College Football Playoff picture after Saturday’s 38-35 loss at Oklahoma State. In the process of losing, the Longhorns demonstrated plenty of vulnerability, particularly on defense.
Texas allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more to the Cowboys. The Horns have also been vulnerable to very explosive plays his season, allowing 11 plays of at least 40 yards this season. Only Texas Tech and Baylor have given up more plays of at least 40 yards in the Big 12.
Herman led the Longhorns to a win over the Mountaineers in his first showdown against Dana Holgorsen, though it feels as if an asterisk should be attached. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier broke a finger in the first quarter, and backup Chris Chugunov was no match for the Texas defense, going 14 of 26 for 189 yards.
For West Virginia, the hope is that 60 minutes of Grier will make enough of a difference to continue one of the stranger quirks of this series: neither team has a winning record at home. WVU is 1-2 against Texas at Milan Puskar Stadium, while Texas is 1-3 against West Virginia at Darrel K. Royal-Memorial Stadium. In addition to their Big 12 meetings, the Longhorns dropped a 7-6 game to the Mountaineers in 1956.