What If?

It seems to long ago when West Virginia was a top five team – a legitimate national title contender.

The Mountaineers ended the 2012 regular season 7-5 after two straight wins against Iowa State and Kansas, but it was that five-game losing streak after they started 5-0 that sent the season into a tailspin.

It could've been worse. WVU could be Kansas. But, it's hard not to watch the way the Mountaineers played on Saturday vs. the Jayhawks in a 59-10 victory and wonder what could've been if this team caught a few breaks.

What if running back Shawne Alston stayed healthy? Don't we all want to know how this season would've played out?

Sadly, Alston is one player for West Virginia that just didn't get his opportunity to shine. He was throne into the new offensive system as a fullback-style player, eventually was given a chance, and when he looked like he was about to shine, he caught the injury bug once again.

He could never catch a break, and with that neither did the WVU running game.

Without Alston in the game, teams could easily catch players like Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison. Alston provided the punch – especially when healthy.

What if Tavon Austin would've been used more at the start of the Mountaineers' losing streak?

Based on his performance over the last three regular season games, there's no doubt that this coaching staff, at times, didn't allow him to be the Heisman-type of player he's capable of being.

Whether he was moved permanently to running back or used more frequently as an all-purpose player, the Mountaineers would've faired better in closer games. I bet they would've found a way to keep the Texas Tech game – when the wind was such a factor and the passing game was so ineffective – close.

What if wide receiver Stedman Bailey hadn't been injured midway through the season and had to play some games at less than 100 percent?

Bailey has broken just about every WVU receiving record that Austin doesn't have, but the junior pass catcher could've done even more if it wasn't for his minor injuries. Still, he might win the Biletnikoff Award and will probably be a decent NFL draft pick, but who knows what it could've been.

The biggest "what if" is probably the one that was always least likely to happen. If somehow the former defensive staff stayed and didn't leave for Arizona to reconnect with Rich Rodriguez, you have to wonder where this team would be.

Former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel wouldn't have coached the worst passing defense in the country. Sure, the Mountaineers probably wouldn't have the stellar statistics of a year ago, but it wouldn't have been the laughing stock of the Big 12 either.

More generally, what if this defense didn't have to learn a new scheme and put players in new, uncomfortable positions? I'd say the Mountaineers are probably sharing the Big 12 title right now.

But, that's the fun part about writing and not playing or coaching. You can look back. This team can't. It will have to move on knowing it didn't accomplish what it wanted to this season but still make the most of its average bowl game.

The funny thing is, WVU would've run away with the Big East Conference title this year – even with a bad defense.

The Big 12 was a new challenge, one that caught up to West Virginia in Year One.

Still, it's fun (and a tad depressing if you're a fan) to wonder what could've been this year – one that was so bright 60 days ago and now sits as a dim blip in the program's relatively strong recent past.

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