What to make of WVU’s place in preseason rankings
Published: Monday, August 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 01:08
While the merit of preseason rankings is sometimes brought into question, there is no denying that at their core, they are nothing more than bona fide beauty pageants. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.
This offseason, West Virginia fans have been treated to a considerable amount of attention via preseason accolades and projections. The Mountaineers have plenty of shiny blue ribbons and sashes on paper – but does it mean anything?
Well, yes and no.
Coaches are notorious for their disdain of preseason rankings – primarily because they can be a bit of a distraction. Good coaches and good teams aren’t paying too much attention to them, but that doesn’t stop their fan base from obsessing over them.
The number that sits in front of a ranked team almost becomes attached to it like an official title – like a doctorate or knighthood can bring. "Hello, we’re No. 4 Oklahoma. Nice to meet you, world."
The Mountaineers were pegged at No. 11 in the preseason Associated Press poll released this week, and another sticker was placed on the sterling paper resume West Virginia has built this offseason. Coaches and players have been fairly coy about it, but the fans were given another shiny title to throw around – an effective distraction for the next two weeks until the season starts.
West Virginia’s ranking is a good thing for the fans. At No. 11, the Mountaineers are on the precipice of breaking into the top 10, and just a few early season losses away from hitting serious single digits in the realm of the top five. Much like spring training in baseball, it seems like now more than ever is the time for fans to let their expectations run wild – a perfectly healthy thing to do for now.
When talking to others, such as someone in line at the grocery store or your mailman, you introduce yourself with a smile and a nod as No. 11. It certainly feels good to be ranked and in a position where there isn’t much debating about why the team is where it is – sorry Notre Dame.
But what does it all mean for the team? You know, the guys who have to go out Saturday and play under the herculean expectations heaped upon them by the Mountaineer fan base.
It’s tough, because to me, it feels like there is no room to drop the ball. A No. 11 ranking has people talking big things – Big 12 championship, national championship, etc. Is it fair? Can the team ignore the hype and not falter under the heavy expectations?
Last year, it definitely felt like there were times when West Virginia was too confident – the Syracuse game felt that way all week leading up to the game. Confidence like that, which comes out as cockiness, would be fatal on any weekend this season.
On the flip side of that, though, there were times when West Virginia was confident in a positive way (Orange Bowl). The No. 11 ranking can serve up that same kind of confidence, if harnessed the right way.
One thing I think is imperative to visit is the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy based on a preseason ranking. I know they still haven’t played any games, but if you start thinking you’re a team in the top 10 before you take the field then before long, you really can be a top 10 team.
The most comforting notion behind all of this is that head coach Dana Holgorsen and the rest of the coaching staff will keep the players’ attitudes in check. There is no one better prepared to deal with hype and expectations than Holgorsen – who has had to deal with them since the announcement of his hiring.
Ultimately, preseason rankings will fade away, as each passing week will lead to a reshuffling in the polls. For now, there’s no need to take too much stock in a number. There is room, though, to look ahead and see what that number will lead to and how the Mountaineers will use it to their advantage.