What a difference a year makes.
Now all of that excitement is gone.
The Mountaineers were nowhere to be found in the 2013 preseason coaches poll—not even receiving a single Top 25 vote. Just as WVU plunged out of the polls, the team's season-ticket sales have dropped dramatically.
According to Alex Lang of the Dominion Post, West Virginia has sold just 33,100 season ticketsr, matching its lowest total since 2005.
Now entering a new season with a new team in a completely different light than 2013, the Mountaineers must focus on how they can fight their way back into the conversation nationally and in the Big 12.
Fortunately, WVU will have an enormous opportunity to do so just one week into the season on the road against No. 16 Oklahoma.
In this Sept. 7 contest, the Mountaineers don't necessarily need to come out with a victory to show that they're on their way back to national relevance. If WVU can compete with OU and manage a closely contested result while breaking in an entirely new offense, that alone will be an excellent first step.
From there, this team must take care of business against regional rival Maryland on Sept. 21. Also unranked, the Terrapins are carrying expectations even lower than that of WVU.
With the non-conference slate out of the way, it will be on to a full-time Big 12 schedule, where the bulk of the work must be done.
Right off the bat, West Virginia will host No. 14 Oklahoma State, the Big 12's highest-ranked team, on Sept. 28 in another opportunity for a signature win.
In addition to taking on OSU in Morgantown, WVU will also play host to No. 15 Texas later in the season.
West Virginia's midseason road slate will feature three key tilts as well. Baylor checked in at No. 29, Kansas State at No. 26 and TCU at No. 20, and all will host WVU.
To make it back into the Top 25 by season's end, the Mountaineers must at least manage a 3-3 split against the six highest-ranked teams in the Big 12: Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor.
To be considered one of the best, West Virginia will have to show up and beat the best in its big games.
Needless to say, the Mountaineers must also handle their business against fellow unranked teams Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas.
WVU 2013 Schedule with USA Today Coaches Poll Rankings
|Aug. 31||William & Mary||Morgantown, W.Va.|
|Sept. 7||No. 16 Oklahoma||Norman, Okla.|
|Sept. 14||Georgia State||Morgantown, W.Va.|
|Sept. 21||Maryland||Baltimore, Md.|
|Sept. 28||No. 14 Oklahoma State||Morgantown, W.Va.|
|Oct. 5||Baylor*||Waco, Texas|
|Oct. 19||Texas Tech||Morgantown, W.Va.|
|Oct. 26||Kansas State*||Manhattan, Kan.|
|Nov. 2||No. 20 TCU||Fort Worth, Texas|
|Nov. 9||No. 15 Texas||Morgantown, W.Va.|
|Nov. 16||Kansas||Lawrence, Kan.|
|Nov. 30||Iowa State||Morgantown, W.Va.|
* = Received votes
Note: Key games italicized.
A 9-3 regular season would at least put WVU on the cusp of the national rankings, and a bowl win and 10-3 finish would certainly have the Mountaineers in the final poll.
Then in 2014, it would be another completely different story, with WVU ranked in the preseason before taking on Alabama in Week 1.
However, making it to that point is easier said than done.
West Virginia will be working with an offense that could feature six or more new players at the skill positions.
On defense, the Mountaineers must establish a new identity after an embarrassing showing in 2012.
As wide open as the Big 12 is predicted to be, there should be plenty of opportunities for WVU to earn its way back into the Top 25.
While it is feasible for the Mountaineers to end up ranked at season's end, they could just as easily take a dive in the other direction and end up with a losing record.
In the coming months, it will all be up to new-look team to decide its destiny on the field.