Mountaineers: Between the Numbers
By Jeff Postus
Welcome to the first ever WVU: Between the Numbers. How many more there are after this is up to you. Please let me know your thoughts, questions, and opinions. Much of this data-driven analysis is left up to debate – sample sizes (when is “modern”?), outlier corrections, subset definitions (what defines a major program?) – this is not presented as science. This is numbers, followed by opinions. So give me yours! We’ll start from the top:
Who are the West Virginia Mountaineers?
According to the data the Mountaineers, historically, are a remarkably consistent Top 25 program. Using the current Power 5 alignment, see below how West Virginia’s win % ranked in a variety of samples:
All Time 23
Last 100 yrs 21
Last 75 yrs 21
Last 50 yrs 22
Last 25 yrs 24
Last 10 yrs 15
Under Holgorsen 38
This performance trend puts the Mountaineers in a tightly packed class with Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Texas A&M. Those performances shown above, despite their overall similarities were achieved under wildly varying circumstances. This suggests that current circumstances are unlikely to alter expected performance.
It is reasonable to expect WVU to be able replicate this success year in, year out. Mountaineer football expectations should start at #25, and move up accordingly. Anything less is performing below program standards which brings us here:
Who are the West Virginia Mountaineers… right now? West Virginia is a program in flux. They are 4 years into the Holgorsen era and are experiencing an unfamiliar lack of success. Dana Holgorsen has a 54.9 win % compared to all other 4 years samples (1900 – 1903, 1901 – 1904, etc…) and in Mountaineer history sits in the lower 33% of the study. Meaning quite simply, it’s not good.
For reference, see below for the top 4 year samples shown as graduating classes in WVU history:
Class/ Win %
Sitting atop that list are two giants of Mountaineer lore, Head Coach Clarence “Doc” Spears, and quarterback Pat White – who could run for Supreme Overlord of West Virginia and win in a landslide. Spears led WVU to unprecedented heights and fielded the nation’s most winning team from 1921-1924.
2008 saw the end of the Pat White era, including 3 consecutive years of top 10 national rankings. Unfortunately Holgorsen may be more worried about his job than his legacy.
The Mountaineers just completed their worst 4 year stretch since 2002, and the worst under a single coach since 1992. Despite the early success in 2011 and the hot start in 2012, WVU’s cumulative win % under Holgorsen is good enough for 38th in the nation, but West Virginia is not where it expects to be.
Who is Dana Holgorsen?
Dana Holgorsen is a gifted offensive mind, a proven recruiter, and a struggling head coach. There seems to be some doubt arising around the “gifted offensive mind” part, but these are unfounded at best. Football games and seasons are experiments or trials in the truest sense of the words.
They are live tests of decisions from 4th down strategy to recruiting plans, and remain our best way to summarize the results and consequences of those decisions. It is with that in mind that I present something that is well known around the country, but seems to have been forgotten in Morgantown due to the aforementioned struggles. See below for the Total Offense National Ranking by year, for Holgorsen-impacted offenses:
Year /Team/ Rank
2005 TTU 4
2006 TTU 8
2007 TTU 4
2008 Hou 10
2009 Hou 2
2010 Ok St 2
2011 WVU 9
2012 WVU 7
2013 WVU 43
2014 WVU 22
Those numbers are hard to deny. Year after year, trial after trial, Dana Holgorsen and this offense worked. It worked against all levels of competition with 5th year seniors and true sophomores. During the last two years the offense fell off track. I find it hard to accept by looking at data such as that shown above that the issue is the coach.
This man did not forget how to operate an offense halfway through his time in Morgantown. The head coach at WVU is unquestionably among the most proven offensive minds in the country. He has not lost that.
I find this to be much more important for the future than the undeniably unacceptable performance of the team under Holgorsen. The struggles have been deep and the causes debatable, but the facts are the facts – the team has under-performed.
That does not mean however, that the Mountaineers were sold a bill of goods. Holgorsen is the brilliant offensive coach that Oliver Luck thought he was. To this point, the challenge of being a Head Coach has proven to be too much for him. However, a school with a proud but modest history like WVU does not have the luxury of discarding talent such as Holgorsen.
If Shane Lyons had the ability to call Nick Saban and get him to come turn the team around he’d probably have to do that. That is simply not the reality here. West Virginia leadership must demand improvement – permanent real estate in the top 25 is shown to be a reasonable standard, but that must be met in equal measure with patience.
History has proven that the offense will quickly return. Recruiting has quite literally never been better. The final missing piece is a rounding into form as Head Coach. When those stars align due to his unique and specific talent as a creator of offense, West Virginia will be extremely dangerous.
That’s the nature of the challenge at WVU. They are not going to be in the National Title conversation every year, or even most years. Not every heavyweight is blessed with speed, quickness, smooth feet, and heavy hands. Some are only given a vicious right hook. Every once in a while they get a title shot and look for the chance to throw it. That’s the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen is their right hook and he’s a really really good one. Every time he gets a new quarterback the nation wonders, “Is this the guy?” Accuracy issues make me doubt they’ve found “the guy” yet, but when they do – look out!
information gathered from http://football.stassen.com/
Dana Holgorsen photo credit USA Today