To play or not to play—that is the question.
After too many games against Akron and Richmond, the Virginia Cavaliers have decided it may be time to upgrade their out-of-conference football schedule.
This move will begin a little less than two months from now when Virginia takes on the USC Trojans.
Even though fans may not hold out much hope for an upset win, you can be assured Scott Stadium will be sold out and rocking with the chance of seeing once and for all how the Cavaliers stack up against one of the top teams in the country.
It is the kind of matchup Virginia fans love to see.
You cannot blame the Virginia athletic department for looking for top 25 teams to bring to Charlottesville.
However, apparently you can blame them for their latest pick.
While this has yet to be confirmed, there is a strong indication that Virginia will be looking to set up a series against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the near future.
The boys from Morgantown, as you may recall, were just one game away from playing in the national championship before an improbable 13-9 loss at home in the season finale against Pittsburgh.
After the news broke of Rich Rodriguez’s departure to coach at Michigan, West Virginia was able to rebound and win convincingly against the third-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, 48-28, in their BCS bowl with veteran Bill Stewart at the helm.
The Mountaineers last played the Cavaliers in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, a 48-22 thrashing by Virginia, which led to heightened optimism for the up and coming ACC team which had finished in a tie for second after being picked next to last by the preseason ACC media.
However, the fallout from that game has been two teams going in different directions.
Despite the loss, West Virginia has gone 49-14 since that game, including 33 wins the last three seasons. The Cavaliers have gone 36-25 since that big win.
That game also marked the death of the Virginia pep band. A halftime routine spoofing “The Bachelor” and the “Real Life Beverly Hills” raised the ire of West Virginia fans. It even resulted in West Virginia Governor Bob Wise condemning their actions and led to the rise of an official Virginia marching band for the first time in school history.
Obviously the two schools are not big fans of one another, but Athletic Director Craig Littlepage could never have imagined the resentment most Virginia fans appear to have towards this proposed match up.
Just a quick glance at Virginia’s fan site The Sabre shows the football board simply exploding over whether the Cavaliers should play West Virginia.
The excuses seem to be plentiful, but the fact that even the mentioning of a potential contract causes such fervor demonstrates why this series should happen.
Teams do fans a disservice by scheduling weak out-of-conference opponents. There is no buzz generated by the fans, and that trickles down to the players. They play at a very lethargic level, and everyone is left with a disheartening, boring game that may have done more harm than good.
If you want to impress the national pollsters, go out there and play someone worthy of getting attention.
The ACC has certainly become an open race the last few years, as evidenced by Wake Forest’s shocking run just two years ago.
The Cavaliers have had great talent under the Al Groh era, but they have struggled against the top teams in the conference.
That is because Virginia simply had not prepared itself by scheduling opponents that matched the speed and athleticism of Virginia Tech or Florida State.
If the Cavaliers truly want to compete for the ACC title, why not take the risk?
West Virginia may not have the same prestige as USC, but they certainly feature a great deal of skill and athleticism.
Even though the Big East gets a lot of grief for its lack of depth and quality teams, the ACC is the conference that has gone 1-9 in BCS games and winless since the expansion.
It is far better to gain experience against a high-quality team early to help you down the road. Other teams have begun to figure this out.
Texas beating Ohio State in 2005, and then Ohio State flipping the script the next year, led to a great deal of confidence and set the table for runs to the BCS title game.
Even the Cavaliers' arch rival, the Virginia Tech Hokies, have begun to stop scheduling cupcakes like William and Mary and Ohio University all the time and now bring teams like LSU and Nebraska to the schedule.
So it’s time to get off the high horse.
If Virginia wants to claim it has a great school, tradition, and fan base, then let’s prove it.
Instead of worrying about fans and safety, worry about being a good example yourself.
By doing so, Virginia and its fans can get what all teams really want: Respect.