In 2012, WVU football played its first season in the Big 12. nearly ten years later, both Texas and Oklahoma announced their plans to leave the Big 12 Conference. With the conference’s two biggest money-makers heading to the SEC, should the Mountaineers also abandon ship or stick around and try to compete?
Big East roots
Coming off of a dominant stretch in the Big East Conference, West Virginia made a business decision to join the Big 12. The Mountaineers would soon find out what the term “Power Five Conference” meant.
From 2002-2011, WVU football compiled a record of 95-33 while also picking up six conference titles and five bowl wins, three of which being New Year’s Six bowl wins. In 2012, everything would change as the Mountaineers were introduced as the newest member of the Big 12 conference.
New life in the Big 12
In the Mountaineers’ inaugural season in the Big 12, they would finish with a record of 7-6, the first time the program won less than eight games in a season in over a decade. West Virginia fans would get used to these results, as the Mountaineers would finish 4-8 in their second season before returning to 7-6 in their third.
As the future of WVU football began to grow bleak, the Mountaineers would once again finish their season 7-5; however, they would defeat Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl, 43-42, and improve to 8-5. For the first time since entering the Big 12, the Mountaineers would win eight games in a single season.
The struggle to belong
Following the Mountaineers’ 8-5 season in 2015, WVU football would have their best season in the Big 12 in 2016. The Mountaineers would go 10-2 in the regular season, good enough to come in third place in the conference.
Though they did not make the Big 12 Championship Game, West Virginia racked up a ten-win season in a major conference. The feat felt like an accomplishment in itself. In the Russel Athletic Bowl, the Mountaineers would fall short to Miami (FL) by a score of 31-14. West Virginia would drop to 10-3 on the season but stay ranked as they finished a monumental season in Morgantown.
Since finishing their great season in 2016, the Mountaineers have struggled to belong in the conference. In 2017 WVU football would return to 7-6 and then 8-4 in the following season.
As the Mountaineers’ 2018 campaign came to a close, former head coach Dana Holgorsen would leave WVU football to take the head coaching position with Houston.
In 2019 current WVU football head coach Neal Brown would take over in Morgantown. Brown had tremendous success with the Troy Trojans and was now ready to try his hand in a major conference.
Brown would fail to impress in his first three seasons as head coach. After three years, Neal Brown has a 17-18 and is 1-2 in bowl games. Brown is yet to win more than six games in a season and has finished with a losing record in 67 percent of his seasons at West Virginia so far.
That being said, Neal Brown could just be getting started in Morgantown; after all, the Big 12 is a tough conference to win games in, and few major recruits are lining up to play at West Virginia.
Brown will likely get at least two to three more seasons before he is truly on the hot seat at West Virginia University.
After Texas and Oklahoma announced that they would be leaving the Big 12, the entire conference threw itself into a panic. With the two biggest recruiting and money-making teams in the Big 12 leaving for the SEC, the remaining teams will now have a tough decision to make.
For the Mountaineers, this decision should be a difficult one. West Virginia has not had any true success since coming to the Big 12; however, they could be eying up a weaker conference to win in the future.
One main factor in this decision could be geographic location. Big 12 teams are typically southern schools such as Texas, OU, Kansas, etc.
WVU would fit better in the ACC, where schools such as Pitt, Louisville, and others currently play. The ACC is also a better basketball conference which will help Bob Huggins’ recruiting efforts.
West Virginia now has a decision to make. Either they can stick with the Big 12, a conference that seems to be dying out as we speak, or they can leave like the more prominent schools are doing for a conference that best suits the Mountaineers as a university.