Auburn and Alabama’s Iron Bowl, Ole Miss and Mississippi State’s Egg Bowl, Oregon and Oregon State’s Civil War, Michigan and Ohio State’s The Game and Texas and Oklahoma’s Red River Rivalry are just some of the marquee rivalry matchups that excite football fanbases each and every year.
One of the things that makes college football so enjoyable to watch is the intense rivalries that exist between certain programs. Unfortunately, this is exactly what WVU football has been missing in recent years.
The Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia used to be one such rivalry, but since the realignment of the Big East Conference in 2013, the two programs have been unable to face off on a regular basis. Fortunately, the Backyard Brawl is making its return in 2022 when the Mountaineers will travel to the Steel City.
Being located so far away from any of the other teams in the Big 12, and lacking a substantial history with any of them, WVU’s transition into its new conference left the team rival-less.
Somewhat organically, Texas has started to fill that void for West Virginia. Following last season’s exciting 42-41 WVU victory, Mountaineer fans have had this week’s rematch circled on the schedule in anticipation. Even in his first year as head coach, Neal Brown said he can feel the excitement building.
“This is one that our fans are excited about and this is one that they talked about in the offseason as well.”
The first ingredient to a good rivalry is a mutual respect between the programs, which Texas and WVU seem to have in droves.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for (West Virginia) Coach (Neal) Brown,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said Monday. “I’ve admired him and what he’s been able to do from afar. Anytime you’ve got your team playing hard and have a sound scheme that can cause some confusion for your opponent, you’ve got a chance for success.”
“It’s Texas,” West Virginia linebacker Shea Campbell said. “I think everybody, whether or not you like them or not, everybody has a bit of respect for them. Everybody knows the burnt orange, you see the color and that’s the only team you think of.”
Campbell said he thinks the rivalry buds from the intensity of each program’s fans.
“I think it’s just two fan bases that genuinely care about their programs and when thy go head to head it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, we want to be better than you.’”
Junior defensive lineman Darius Stills said he too can sense the excitement from the fan base.
“I feel like it is [a rivalry] because of the hype that goes into it,” Stills said. “Just from the game last year, it kind of set it off. I feel like it’s always been a rivalry because of the fan bases that get into it.”
Most rivalries are rooted in tradition, decades of the two teams facing off. The WVU and Texas matchup, however, has burned bright in its short existence. WVU leads the all-time series 5-3, while also winning three of the last four games.
The largest margin of victory for either team, however, is only 17 and five of the games have been decided by only one score.
Senior offensive tackle Colton McKivitz has been a Mountaineer as long as anyone of this year’s team, and he thinks there’s always a little something extra when playing Texas.
“I think there’s games that there’s always an extra edge,” McKivitz said. “As players, I wouldn’t say just because it’s a rivalry game, but there’s an edge there. Anytime we’re playing Texas there’s an edge.”
Kelby Wickline, McKivitz’s opposite on the offensive line, thinks that the short history between the two programs has been very good.
“We’ve had a good series in the past, a bunch of close games, and it’s gone back and forth a little bit,” Wickline said. “It’s fun to compete with teams like Texas in the Big 12, it creates a lot of fun.”
Kicker Evan Staley said, on its current trajectory, he can totally envision a full blown WVU-Texas rivalry.
“After the past few years, I see it becoming more of a well-known game for our fan base,” Staley said. “Not necessarily a rivalry, but I could see it forming one. It’s definitely a big game every year, and we always look forward to playing Texas.”
Geographical proximity is also a major component to most rivalries. Lacking that, some of the players on the team want to treat Texas as just another opponent.
“Every week’s a big game, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” defensive lineman Reese Donahue said. “Every game we play on the schedule is a big game. Every single opponent in the Big 12 is tough. You can’t get overly hyped about it, you also can’t play it any different. You prepare for the next team, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Longhorns or the Bears. It doesn’t matter what the name on the jersey says.”
“Once we get into the Big 12, I’ll treat them all the same,” Brown said. “This is a big one because this is the one we play this week. They happen to be ranked No. 11 in the country, West Virginia had a big win against them last year, but I don’t think that will have any bearing whatsoever when we line up and kick this thing off on Saturday.”
And as for the “Horns Down” gesture, the team is trying not to focus too much on it.
“We’ll address [horns down] at some point,” Brown said. “To me, it’s much ado about nothing. I’d rather build up West Virginia than try and tear anybody else down.”
“There’ll be enough people doing it on Saturday so we shouldn’t have to worry about doing it,” McKivitz added.