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Holgorsen in it for one more

By Staff | Dec 30, 2015

By Bubba Kapral

MORGANTOWN – Dana Holgorsen is returning as West Virginia University’s head football coach.

Rumors surfaced during a roller-coaster season that his return was not a sure thing. Such talk intensified after the Mountaineers fell to Kansas State in the regular-season finale. The one-point setback dropped WVU to a so-so 7-5 mark.

Holgorsen’s status was put to rest earlier in December when athletics director Shane Lyons announced Holgorsen would be brought back for a sixth season.

The $2.9-million question (Holgorsen’s projected 2016 salary) is: Does that bode well for the future of WVU football?

Holgorsen’s five-year head-coaching report card in Morgantown is 35-28.

His best season was his first, after replacing Bill Stewart in a less than seamless transition. The Mountaineers went 10-3 that inaugural season while gaining a share of the Big East crown. The ‘Eers defeated Clemson, 70-33, in the Orange Bowl to cap the campaign.

WVU subsequently joined the Big 12 and has produced records of 7-6, 4-8, 7-6 and 7-5. The Mountaineers have not finished better than fourth in the conference.

The win-loss totals can be translated two ways: Holgorsen won impressively in his first year with someone else’s players or Big 12 football is too competitive for WVU to win big under Holgorsen’s watch.

Then again, it could be both.

The Big 12 is a bipolar conference. There are heavyweights like Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. There also are some bottom feeders: Kansas, Iowa State and Texas (which may change in years to come). Kansas State is fair at best.

WVU has shown it is a middle-of-the-pack football program in the Big 12. The Mountaineers men’s basketball team, meanwhile, can compete with the conference’s best. With Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor and Iowa State, the league has some prime-timers.

Bobby Huggins makes that happen. He was successful when WVU was in the Big East as was the case with his one year at Kansas State prior to coming to Morgantown.

The case can be made that the Big 12 is more competitive in basketball than football. Yet, Huggins gets it done.

This will likely prove the watershed season for Holgorsen. He has two years left on his contract.

Another 7-5 season and a return trip to the Cactus Bowl (or something similar) may prove too thorny for Holgorsen to survive.

The Mountaineers’ 2016 schedule has home games with Missouri, Youngstown State, Kansas State, TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma and Baylor. Road games are at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State with a neutral-site game, pitting WVU against BYU at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

Having Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma visiting Morgantown helps level the playing field for the ‘Eers, as all three were road losses this fall. Trips to Lubbock, Austin and Stillwater will be no walks in the park.

Holgorsen came to Morgantown with an unquestioned reputation as an offensive guru. Scoring points has not been a problem under his watch.

Not winning enough has been.

If WVU does not exhibit some upward mobility in the Big 12 in 2016, Year 5 may also prove year final for Holgorsen in Morgantown. That is, unless Mountaineers Nation is content with mediocrity.

This column originally appeared Dec. 13 in the Times Leader in Martin’s Ferry.