Published November 20, 2014
Their debut seasons in the Big 12 haven't exactly gone the way West Virginia and TCU had hoped.
The No. 23 Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) and Horned Frogs (5-3, 2-3) are coming off a lousy October and are in need of solid finishes to improve their positions for a bowl.
First, they've got to become bowl eligible. The team that doesn't on Saturday will be saddled with its first three-game losing streak under their current coaches.
It hasn't happened at TCU since the Horned Frogs lost four straight in 1998 under Dennis Franchione. West Virginia lost three straight to finish the 2004 season with Rich Rodriguez at the helm.
West Virginia and TCU are accustomed to being on top of their conferences and have played in a combined four BCS bowls over the last five seasons.
TCU had only three losses total in the previous three seasons combined, including going undefeated in the Mountain West. The Mountaineers shared the Big East championship the past two seasons.
This year is much different. West Virginia is sixth and TCU eighth in the Big 12 standings.
"We understand we've got to win more than we lose," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "We're trying to get to that sixth win like everybody else. We've got four games left to do that."
West Virginia rose to No. 5 in the rankings before going on a free fall with blowout losses to No. 20 Texas Tech and No. 3 Kansas State. Like TCU, the Mountaineers have been forced to play a lot of first-year players, especially on defense.
"We've got a strange combination of a bunch of older kids that want to finish the year strong, that want to keep winning, that want to show improvement, that want to get to a good bowl game and win games," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "Then there's a bunch of young kids that don't understand any of this. It's our jobs as coaches to mix the two and keep the attitude good."
TCU was ranked as high as No. 15 a month ago but is 1-3 since suspending starting QB Casey Pachall after he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Pachall left school for the rest of the semester to enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
Pachall's replacement, redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin, has thrown for five touchdowns and three interceptions in his last two games. He hurt a knee late in a loss to Oklahoma State last week and Patterson is confident he'll play Saturday.
"Trevone did not play very well last week on the road," Patterson said. "We need him to play a little bit better."
Boykin could get better in a hurry against a West Virginia defense that has allowed an average of 53 points over its last four games.
West Virginia is making a lot of quarterbacks look great. Five opponents have thrown for 300 yards or more against the Mountaineers. Kansas State's Collin Klein was simply dazzling in the Wildcats' 55-14 win in Morgantown on Oct. 20, throwing for a career-high 323 yards and three TDs while running for four more scores.
The Mountaineers used a bye week to try to soften the glaring errors on defense that include blown coverages and poor tackling.
The defense is allowing 496 yards a game this season. West Virginia would be in much worse shape in the standings if its offense behind Geno Smith wasn't averaging 501.
Smith is coming off two lackluster performances by his standards. He's thrown for 26 touchdowns this season, but he's had a total of two in back-to-back losses and threw his first two interceptions of the season against Kansas State.
"I've continued to work hard. I've continued to stay confident," Smith said. "I've continued to believe in my guys and believe in this coaching staff and just trust what's around me."