The Big East's scheduling philosophy of trying to set up key conference showdowns at the end of the season will always mean a tough game or two in late November and early December for schools that figure to compete for the league title. West Virginia's now-traditional Friday-after-Thanksgiving game with Pitt also locks the Mountaineers into a tough late season battle, but again, that's to be expected. The additional factor which makes WVU's closing state even tougher is the home/road balance -- which is severely tilted toward the difficult end of the scale. The Mountaineers play four of their final six games away from home, and will have to face Pitt and USF, who are early nominees as league favorites along with West Virginia, in the final two weeks.
Of course, being included in that group isn't a bad thing. It's better than being relegated to an off week, or a match-up with schools at the bottom of the conference just as interest in college football is peaking. In terms of the road-heaviness of the schedule, it wasn't much of a surprise, either, as the Mountaineers knew they would have just three conference home games this year, and already were aware that four of their first five games would be played in Morgantown.
We already looked at the non-conference schedule in a previous article, so we won't rehash that here. Other than a flip-flop of the first two games, which would have been more desirable, the opening five games set up well for a team breaking in a new offensive system and a new coach.
Moving on to the conference slate, WVU could have done worse than to have UConn coming for a visit in the Big East opener for both teams. West Virginia will certainly have more than the usual motivation for this game after suffering its first-ever loss in the series in 2010. Both teams will come in after playing MAC opponents (Bowling Green for WVU, Western Michigan for the Huskies), and each will be playing for the sixth consecutive week.
Following that game, WVU gets a nicely-timed week off before hitting the road for a trip to Syracuse. The Orange also have a week off before the WVU game, so there's no advantage for either squad on that front. This is another game in which WVU will be trying to avenge a loss, and it figures to be a difficult trip, as the Orange are making steady progress in rebuilding the program.
WVU continues the road swing the following week against Rutgers, in what could be the least difficult game of the closing half of the season. Rutgers will be coming off a Friday night road trip to Louisville, so again, there's no additional prep time advantage for either school.
WVU returns home for a game against the Cardinals on the first weekend of November, and while head coach Charlie Strong has brought in an excellent class to continue the rebuilding process, this is a game the Mountaineers will need to win to set up a strong stretch drive. That begins the following week at Cincinnati, where WVU plays a Bearcat squad that will be completing a tough stretch of its own, having faced USF and Pitt (broken up by an off week in between) prior to the West Virginia game.
West Virginia then gets another breather, with the weekend of Nov. 19 open before hosting Pitt in the Backyard Brawl on the day after Thanksgiving before closing with a Thursday night trip to USF on Dec. 1. The Panthers also have an open week before the WVU game, while USF will host Louisville a week prior to the regular season finale.
All in all, it's an equitable schedule. While West Virginia's slate is back-heavy with road trips and tougher conference foes, it's not an unfair disadvantage. The two open dates are spaced out well, and the Mountaineers don't face a schedule where three or four opponents have a week off when West Virginia does not.