Ranking The Best WVU Seasons Of The Pat White Era

Frank AhrensSenior Writer IDecember 16, 2008

Even though there’s one more game to go in this WVU football season, I think it’s fair to say that whether it ends up as a 9-4 or an 8-5 season, it will be the worst of the past four seasons, otherwise known as the Pat White Era.

White was redshirted his first year at WVU, so we’ll call his era the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.

During that time, WVU has ascended consistent heights not seen before. The team has had single better seasons -- the 1988 and 1993 undefeated seasons, both times playing, more or less, for the national title -- but under White, WVU notched three straight 11-win seasons for the first time in school history and played in two BCS bowls. From 2005-2007, WVU finished ranked in the Top 10 each season.

Here is a ranking of the past four seasons, beginning with No. 4 and ending with No. 1:

4. 2008: In a tumultuous offseason during which WVU loses former head coach Rich Rodriguez to Michigan and instigates a long, painful and public legal action to claim its $4 million buyout payment, WVU hires special teams coach Bill Stewart as the new head coach. WVU loses all coaches but two -- defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich -- and has to hire an almost entirely new staff, including Wake Forest quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen to be an offensive coordinator, a job he’d never held before. Stewart vows to diversity offense, Mullen claims it’s still “Pat White’s offense,” but offense never clicks for sustained period during the season; most notably, in its failure to convert third-and-short situations. WVU fans become first puzzled, then angered while watching the once-great offense grind to a halt.   Nevertheless, as transition seasons go -- Paul Johnons’s 9-3 season this year at Georgia Tech, during which he installed a triple-option offense with pro-style players, notwithstanding -- Stewart could have done worse. The real test is next season.

3. 2006 (11-2): WVU enters this season ranked fifth nationally with high expectations following its surprise victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. WVU starts 7-0 but loses national championship hopes in loss at Louisville. Despite rolling up 540 yards and 34 points, WVU commits six fumbles and loses three. These miscues -- including the last college punt of Scott Koslowski, whose kick was returned for a touchdown -- cost WVU the game. WVU responds with two straight wins and climbs back to seven in the rankings before losing to South Florida in another error-filled performance -- three fumbles, two lost, one returned for a touchdown. White is injured and backup Jarrett Brown starts the next the game, home against Rutgers, and guides a thrilling 41-39, triple-overtime victory that puts WVU in the Gator Bowl against Georgia Tech. WVU loses Steve Slaton to injury early in the game and the Mountaineer defense cannot contain Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. But in the second half, WVU’s defense stiffens and White almost single-handedly wins the game.

2. 2007 (11-2): Following its Gator Bowl victory, and returning White, Slaton, Owen Schmitt, Darius Reynaud and most of its defense, WVU enters the season ranked third with expectations of launching a national championship run. WVU fans feel that finally, this is the year. However, despite starting 4-0, WVU drops to fifth in the rankings heading into a Friday night ESPN game against nemesis South Florida, ranked 18th. Another error-filled performance (WVU fumbles five times, loses three and is intercepted three times) combines with a game-ending injuring to White. WVU is upset and drops to 13th in the rankings. WVU responds by reeling off six straight wins and -- combined with some fortuitous losses of teams ahead of it in the rankings -- the Mountaineers climb to second in the AP and first in the coaches poll and must only beat rival Pitt, at home, a four-touchdown underdog, to face Ohio State in the BCS title game. WVU fans know how this story ends. Still, WVU rallies heroically to upset -- dominate -- heavy favorite Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

1. 2005 (11-1): Surprised? Almost any way you statistically look at it, this turns out to be the best season of the Pat White Era. Its 11 victories match the highest of the 2006 and 2007 seasons. And the team’s sole loss is the fewest of any season during White’s time at WVU. WVU was undefeated (7-0) in the Big East, and claimed sole possession of the league crown (unlike in 2007, when it shared the title). White was not the starter until the eighth game of the season, entering the seventh game versus Louisville when starter Adam Bednarkik was injured and guiding the team to an improbable and memorable 46-44 triple-overtime victory. With White at quarterback, WVU averages 38 points per game; with Bednarik at quarterback, WVU averaged 24 points per game. WVU is matched against heavily favored Georgia in the Sugar Bowl with nothing less than Big East legitimacy on the line. WVU blows out to a 28-0 victory, as Georgia is befuddled by the zone-read option spread running game, and holds off a furious Georgia comeback to seal a 38-35 victory with a faked punt on fourth down.

One way to look at the rankings is this: Despite White’s sustained and record-breaking success and his leadership that spurred WVU to three straight 11-win seasons and two BCS bowl wins, the Mountaineers peaked after White’s redshirt-freshman season and were  never able to live up to lofty expectations. Remember the words of former WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, now at Florida State, when he was recruiting White: “If we get him here, we’ll win a national championship.” Had WVU been able to hold on to a few more of those fumbles (Don’t forget: WVU committed five fumbles and lost three of them versus Pitt in 2007.), Trickett may have been proven right.

But, as White himself said following this year’s loss to Pitt: "If 'if' were a fifth, we'd all be drunk, too, right?"