The answer to that question determines what separates the good teams from the great ones.
No matter what level of talent they possess, there are very few teams that will go through an entire season without a loss. But what happens in the aftermath? What happens to a team after they suffer a bitter, heart-breaking defeat? Do they fold their tent in shame or quickly regroup for the next game?
One thing that I have noticed about Rich Rodriquez’s West Virginia football teams is the excellent way they respond to adversity. They generally bounce right back after a loss and win the following week. Great teams always do—and that is a reflection on the coaching.
One of the earliest, and quite possibly one of the best, examples of this is the 2003 season.
Rodriquez’s Mountaineers started that season by losing four of their first five games, the last one being a nationally televised slugfest against the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes during which West Virginia’s Quincy Wilson made college football’s play of the year, scoring a touchdown with approximately two minutes left on the clock.
Thanks to some last minute heroics, the Hurricanes would eventually win that game, 22-20. Following the heartbreaking defeat, many teams would have folded, but not the Mountaineers...And not Rich Rodriquez!
Instead, they responded by winning seven straight games to finish the regular season. In so doing, they won a share of the Big East title and were selected to play in the Gator Bowl.
When faced with adversity, Rich Rodriquez, 2003 Big East Coach of the Year, directed his West Virginia Mountaineers to overcome those challenges and disappointments and led them to an outstanding season.
But let’s look at how another coach led his team in the face of adversity.
When Jim Leavitt’s South Florida Bulls lost to Rutgers this year, they immediately concluded that their season was lost. One football loss quickly became two, two became three...and then all WAS lost.
USF eventually righted the ship and salvaged a productive season, but much of the damage had already been done. Had the Bulls’ response to adversity been different, that one loss might not have scuttled their chance to play for the national title.
But once again, West Virginia and Rodriquez are in the same boat. The ship is listing, but still afloat. Their unexpected loss to the Pitt Panthers in Morgantown cost them a guaranteed slot in the BCS Championship Game, devastating players and coaches, and breaking the hearts of fans.
No matter what happens in the next game, there will be no National Championship for the 2007 Big East Champs. However, there is still much to be gained.
I am confident that Rodriguez is reminding each one his players that all is not lost for West Virginia and there is certainly a lot riding on this BCS bowl game with the Big 12 Champs.
The outcome of the game will affect recruiting and alter preseason ranking for next year. The final score will determine the regard a nation awards to the Mountaineer football program and the respect they will earn as players and coaches.
Standing in the way are the Oklahoma Sooners, arguably the best team in the whole country. But how will our Mountaineers respond to adversity?
In typical fashion, they will come to Arizona fully prepared. They will take the field bearing the character and aspirations of an entire state, the loyalty and love of their fans, and the pride and tradition of a great university.
In the end, I believe they will play the game of their lives and emerge from this bowl with a hard-fought victory. The “good” team that fell to Pitt will become a great team when faced with Oklahoma.
The Mountaineers’ 2008 football season doesn’t start in September of next year. It begins on Jan. 2 at the Fiesta Bowl. From defeat unto victory, from turmoil to triumph, from the mire to the mountaintop—adversity will give birth to excellence.
And that is the message Coach Rodriquez will undoubtedly emphasize to his squad.
For the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Pitt game was last year and “next year” begins now.