West Virginia hopes to break through this season and make it to the College Football Playoff.
The pieces are there with quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills returning in 2018. The two biggest questions are:
- Can West Virginia’s defense be as good as the offense?
- Can West Virginia navigate a treacherous four-game stretch in November?
Both questions won’t be answered for months, but we can at least dissect the schedule for now. We’ve ranked the Mountaineers’ five most important games of the 2018 season.
5. Kansas State, Sept. 22
West Virginia has a couple of difficult tests to start the season, then it opens Big 12 play with Kansas State. Not so fun.
The Wildcats are always tough to gauge this time of year. It’s safe to anticipate Kansas State will be good, knowing coach Bill Snyder.
Why it’s important: The Mountaineers will be battle-tested after playing Tennessee and N.C. State, but this game could become problematic if West Virginia gets banged up against tough competition. Kansas State’s physicality will be a challenge for the Mountaineers. Staying focused and starting strong will be key for West Virginia.
4. Tennessee, Sept. 1
West Virginia’s nationally televised season opener is a prime opportunity to start with a marquee win.
Tennessee hasn’t been a perennial power for some time, but this game will feel big under the lights of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Why it’s important: West Virginia can use a win here as leverage in the College Football Playoff race. The “we beat an SEC team” is always a solid one to play, even if Tennessee has recently struggled. This one is a notch below N.C. State because West Virginia can recover from a Week 1 loss and still make the playoff. It can also likely recover if it loses in Week 3 to N.C. State, but road wins always look prettier.
3. at N.C. State, Sept. 15
North Carolina State has steadily improved under coach Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack finished ranked No. 23 in the final AP Top 25 poll last season and beat Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
This will be a major test for West Virginia two weeks after its battle with Tennessee.
Why it’s important: As we mentioned earlier, road wins look pretty on College Football Playoff résumés. They are frequently brought up by media pundits and the selection committee when trying to separate teams. If West Virginia slips up in this one, though, its chances at multiple quality road wins will significantly shrink.
2. at Texas, Nov. 3
Remember that brutal stretch in November mentioned earlier? West Virginia goes to Texas on Nov. 3, plays TCU on Nov. 10, goes to Oklahoma State on Nov. 17 and plays Oklahoma on Nov. 23.
Why it’s important: November is where playoff dreams go to die. Texas has looked better under coach Tom Herman so far, so this is no guaranteed win. An undefeated West Virginia team can make a huge statement with a win in Austin, Texas. The first College Football Playoff rankings will also be coming out around this time, so more focus will be on the playoff contenders.
1. Oklahoma, Nov. 23
Someone has to eventually take down Oklahoma, right? The Mountaineers could be the team.
Of course, if they beat Oklahoma, they might have to play them again the next weekend in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Why it’s important: The Friday after Thanksgiving in Morgantown, W.Va., should be electric for this game. All eyes will be on West Virginia and Oklahoma. Imagine the attention this one will get if both teams are undefeated to this point? The Mountaineers have yet to beat the Sooners since joining the Big 12. Beating Oklahoma to get one step closer to a playoff berth would be quite a first for them.