They Remember November

The late Bill Stewart never met a motivational phrase he didn't like, as we all learned during his time as West Virginia's head football coach. But there is one in particular he often used that applies especially well to this year's Mountaineers.

It was Oct. 30, 2009 when Stewart's second of three WVU teams lost its first Big East game, a 30-19 defeat at South Florida. In a dark hallway in the depths of Raymond James Stadium, Stewart offered up a mantra for his team in the weeks to come. "They remember November," he said then, and repeatedly thereafter, both with reporters and his players.

If not for a controversial 24-21 loss at Cincinnati down the stretch -- when an apparent Bearcats fumble was overruled on instant replay and called a touchdown instead -- the Mountaineers would have finished off the rest of the regular season unbeaten and been Big East champions and the league's representative in a BCS bowl game.

That's not to say the phrase was key in WVU's strong play. But Stewart was certainly right: the stories of college football seasons are largely written in November.

Poorly performing teams have a chance to turn things around and inspire hope for the future. Championship contenders get the chance to cement their status. Those languishing in the middle of the pack can either be remembered for a late flop or a late surge.

That's what West Virginia faces down the stretch. It has some very winnable games, a couple of potential toss-ups and one game where it will likely be an underdog in the final five weeks. One could make a convincing argument to back up a wide range of predictions.

Whatever happens will define the legacy of this particular group of Mountaineers.

Will this talented team be remembered like the 2003 WVU squad that rallied after some disappointing performances to win its last seven regular season games? Or will it go the way of the 1996 team that folded like a tent after a late October loss to Miami, losing four of its last five games after a 7-0 start?

The answers to those questions will start to be revealed Saturday against TCU. It's a game that Las Vegas bookmakers think West Virginia should win (WVU is favored by about a touchdown), and with good reason.

The Horned Frogs are, in the words of their coach, Gary Patterson, a "tired" football team. Trevone Boykin, who started the season as TCU's backup at quarterback, was hurt late in last week's loss to Oklahoma State. While he is expected to play, he may still be feeling the effects of what was initially a nasty-looking injury.

TCU hasn't been great on either side of the ball this season and is every bit as young as the Mountaineers in several key areas, already having played 16 true freshmen (tied with Texas for the most in the country).

In other words, it's a game WVU should have every opportunity to win. Given the complete flops in its last two outings, that may not be a given. Make it three and a row, and these Mountaineers may see their season fall into a complete tailspin. Win, and there is still the chance to have an excellent first season in the Big 12.

Players, coaches and fans alike will certainly remember this November, as their former coach once said. The message is still in their minds, as offensive lineman Jeff Braun tweeted the quote on Thursday morning.

From a psychological standpoint, few games in West Virginia's football history have had more riding on them. Seeing how this team responds Saturday will be both interesting and telling.

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