From The Cheap Seats: A History of Mountaineer Hype - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

From The Cheap Seats: A History of Mountaineer Hype

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I feel like Captain Obvious putting fingers to keyboard on this sentence, but there's a lot of hype surrounding Mountaineer football this season. Obviously, there's good reason for a lot of it. WVU's entrance into the Big 12, the return of electrifying players like Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, and year two of Dana Holgorsen's offense are all things to get excited about. The reasons have changed, but excitement and hype are nothing new to Mountaineer Nation. The hype is built up on a number of different levels from several sources. Local and national media, fans and even the university itself, contribute to it.

I would love to be a part of that hype equation, but every season, as it builds to a crescendo, I start to get a sinking feeling. Why? Because life has made me cynical. With that feeling setting in, I decided to look at a little history to see if it had any merit or if I'm just a "Debbie Downer." Off the top of my head, it seems like our most memorable/successful seasons were ones with little to no preseason hype, but let's see what the numbers show over the past decade and a half.

I'll start with the 1998 season. Our Mountaineers came into the season loaded with future NFL players and ranked 11th. The '98 squad had the unfortunate task of taking on top-ranked Ohio State in week 1. WVU played alright, but lost 34-17 and the game became a microcosm for the season. We won the games were supposed to win, but couldn't take out Miami, Virginia Tech or Missouri in the bowl game. The Mountaineers were no where to be found in the final poll. Strike one for preseason hype.

Let's skip ahead to 2002. Coming off of a 3-8 record in Rich Rodriguez's first season, there wasn't a lot of national fanfare surrounding the 2002 team, but as you probably remember, RichRod and company turned things around, finished 9-4, went to the school's first bowl in 3 seasons and got back into the polls for the first time since 1998. Chalk one up for flying under the radar.

The momentum of 2002 combined with WVU's first Big East Championship in 10 seasons, led to a lot of buzz before the 2004 season. The Mountaineers were featured in the top 10 in the preseason polls. Late season losses to Boston College and hated Pitt sent the ‘Eers limping into a Gator Bowl loss to Florida State. Strike two for preseason hype.

Just one season later, preseason pollsters were much more cautious, leaving WVU out of the rankings. We all know what a magical season 2005 turned into, with the emergence of Pat White and Steve Slaton, the triple overtime win over Louisville, an 11-1 record and that stunning win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. All of that led to a top 5 final finish. Score another one for the underdogs.

That fifth spot in the polls is where the Mountaineers began the 2006 campaign. With White and Slaton primed for their sophomore seasons, replicating 2005's success and maybe even challenging for a national championship seemed like a distinct possibility. When Louisville got its revenge and South Florida started a trend of ruining Mountaineer seasons, the preseason dreams turned out not to be. That being said, an 11-2 record and a second straight bowl win are nothing to shake your head at, but there's no doubt that many fans thought the 2006 squad underachieved. We're up to three strikes for preseason hype.

There has been no more hype in Mountaineer Land than what led up to 2007 and a number 3 preseason ranking. With RichRod "committed" and a supporting cast joining White and Slaton, it was the year that we'd finally get over the hump. No need to go into the detail on this one. In any other season, an 11-2 record, a top six final ranking and a whuppin' of mighty Oklahoma in a BCS game would be more than enough to keep fans happy, but when even the slightest mention of 2007 comes up, most fans have reactions ranging from cringing to violence. That's strike four(which is allowed since we're talking about football and not baseball).  

With the way Bill Stewart brought the Fiesta Bowl team together and with White back for his senior season, the experts didn't have too much trouble putting the 'Eers at number 8 in preseason polls in 2008. A 9-4 record, a trip to a third tier bowl game and a final rank of 23 wasn't what most people had in mind.  Another hyped season that fell short.

We now know that the 2009 and 2010 season were considered big enough disappointments that they cost Stew his job, but for the purpose of this exercise, we'll quickly examine them. In 2009, we didn't get any love in the preseason polls, but finished the year ranked 25th, which technically is another point for overachieving. 2010 was the exact opposite, as WVU started in that 25th slot, but finished out of the rankings. Strike six.

Last season brought mixed emotions with surprising losses to Syracuse and Louisville and then the historic trouncing of Clemson, but when you look at the numbers, the Mountaineers started the year ranked 24th and finished at 17. That's another notch for keeping it at least somewhat low key.

So what's the point you ask? It's simple, the history and numbers show that we've had a hard time living up to hype and most of our top seasons have come when many didn't expect success. I totally understand that we can't be a top program and not have hype. I also understand that all it will take is one year to break the current pattern, but until that happens, I'll be an excited, but realistic fan.

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