The last time Alabama faced a team from the Big 12 – that would be Oklahoma in last year’s Sugar Bowl – the Crimson Tide allowed 400+ yards, committed five turnovers, trailed 31-17 at halftime and lost 45-31.
Dana Holgorsen is hoping for a similar outcome this Saturday, when his Big 12 team – West Virginia – takes on No. 2 Alabama at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who is on the College Football Playoff committee, thought scheduling Alabama would be a good idea. Holgorsen agreed.
“Everybody’s going to play a pretty tough conference schedule,” the Mountaineers head coach said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “In the Big 12, we play everybody, which I think is important. But with that said, you’re going to need some non-conference games that mean something as well. So I was all about it. It’s what the fans want to see.”
“It’s going to be a big challenge to us, I understand that,” Holgorsen continued. “But every game’s challenging, and we’re going to view it as an opportunity to be able to go in there and see if we’ve made some improvements over the last year.”
West Virginia went 4-8 last season, including 2-7 in the Big 12. There were some ugly performances in there – like the 73-42 loss at Baylor – but there were several close losses too, including a pair in overtime.
Holgorsen, 43, is hoping for a return to form in 2014. He led West Virginia to 10 wins and an Orange Bowl victory in 2011, but is 11-14 ever since. His win totals have gone from 10 to seven to four over the last three seasons.
But Holgorsen – who has coached at seven different colleges, from Valdosta State to Texas Tech to Houston – remains steadfast in his goals: to build a program contending for conference and national titles.
“There’s always going to be some good players at each and every one of the universities that are in the Big 12,” Holgorsen explained. “You got to have depth. You got to be able to have 44 or 55 guys that can . . . go in and play. You’re going to have to deal with injuries. The style of ball in the Big 12 is an exciting style of ball where you’re going to play more snaps, you’re going to defend more snaps, there’s going to be more special-teams snaps – you got to have a lot of guys that can go in there and play. And then when guys do go down – which, that’s just the nature of college football – you’re going to have injuries. If you want to be able to win games and compete at a very high level, your back-ups better be able to go in there and do it as well.”
Holgorsen’s bunch will be tested early and often this season. The Mountaineers have three games against preseason top-10 teams – No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma (Sept. 20) and No. 10 Baylor (Oct. 18) – as well as a road game against Oklahoma State (Oct. 25) and a home game against No. 20 Kansas State (Nov. 20).
“The schedule is pretty challenging,” Holgorsen said. “It’s definitely different than the way it’s been.”
Indeed, West Virginia has come a long way since its Big East days, and Holgorsen believes this year’s team could surprise some people.
“If you look at our depth chart on all three sides of the ball right now, I really think we’re better at every single position (than we were last year),” he said. “Our depth is better. We’ve been recruiting at a high level here the last coupe of years. We’re going to continue to get those guys to compete. It doesn’t matter if guys think they have starting jobs lined up right now or not. We got to continue to compete at each and every position because that’s kind of what makes everybody better.”