West Virginia vs. Iowa State: Mountaineers Will Earn Bowl Eligibility with Win

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2012

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 03:  Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drops back to pass against the TCU Horned Frogs during the game on November 3, 2012 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A month ago, no one would have believed that West Virginia would have this much trouble becoming bowl eligible. However, that is precisely the case with only two games left to play.

The Mountaineers have lost five straight games since a 5-0 start and all of the good feelings from the beginning of the season are gone. 

Memories of this team being ranked in the Top Five and Geno Smith as a top Heisman candidate have been forgotten, and the team is now desperate.

Fortunately, there are two games remaining for the team to turn things around and reach the postseason.

Although the last game of the year is against one-win Kansas, the team would like to take care of business against Iowa State. The good news is that this is a winnable game.

The biggest problem for West Virginia this season has been its defense. The unit is No. 123 in the nation with 42.3 points allowed per game.

It has been seven games since a team scored fewer than 39 points against this team.

While the defense is unlikely to improve overnight, the Cyclones do not have the personnel to truly take advantage of this deficiency.

Iowa State averages only 25.3 points per game, which is by far the lowest of any of the Big 12 opponents that West Virginia has faced this year. That includes a 51-point performance against Kansas in the last game.

Freshman Sam Richardson had a very impressive showing in that game, but this was his first experience throwing the ball at the college level. As a young passer, there is a very good chance he will still make mistakes early and often.

Aside from that, there are few playmakers on the offense that could have big days against this weak defense. The Cyclones do not have a single player with more than 500 rushing or receiving yards on the season.

Meanwhile, the West Virginia offense should be as good as ever. Quarterback Geno Smith has thrown 35 touchdowns this season, only one behind Matt Barkley for the most in the country. Amazingly, he has only thrown five interceptions.

His 70.1 percent completion mark is also among the best in the league.

Smith's ability to find open receivers in space has helped the team average over 40 points per game and has kept games close when the defense allows a ridiculous amount of points.

To make things better, the Mountaineers finally found some balance on offense with Tavon Austin at running back. Against Oklahoma, the receiver rushed 21 times and totaled 344 yards on the ground.

The senior has always been valuable as an elusive receiver, but as a running back he forces defenses to respect the run and it eventually opens up even more passing lanes for the talented quarterback.

Oklahoma needed a touchdown with only 24 seconds remaining to escape with a win. Iowa State is good, but it does not have the talent of the Sooners on either side of the football.

Even in the loss, the Mountaineers seemed to gain confidence in the offense with the feeling that it can still win games. During a five-game losing streak, that belief in yourself can be all it takes to turn things around.

West Virginia has struggled mightily since the beginning of Big 12 play. However, the team should get back on track with a high-scoring win over Iowa State on Friday.