Despite loss, WVU on right track

For weeks, the West Virginia football team went through camp talking about how much better it was than a year ago.

It was confident that not only could they go into the Georgia Dome and compete with No. 2 Alabama Saturday night but it had the potential to beat the 26-point favorite in the season opener.

And then the time finally came Saturday night, the time when everyone would actually get to see if the Mountaineers were ready to take a turn to get back to where they want to be or if all of the preseason chatter was just talk.

West Virginia held its own. It had chances to win, plenty of them in fact. But they fell short in the 33-23 loss at the hands of the Crimson Tide.

But the seeds have been planted: This looks like it could be a good team - one better than the Big 12 bottom-feeder that some expected to see following last year's 4-8 finish.

Playing against a team with a head coach who always talks about believing in the process, a similar message that has been preached over and over again this preseason, West Virginia had to be able to look and see more than enough things to keep building on as the rest of the season comes up.

The offense was moving the ball more effectively and consistently than it had in a while, the defense made some plays that provided some momentum swings. There are plenty of places this team can look and say they played well.

Of course, the Mountaineers could have done a lot more and would have been able to take advantage of some of those momentum swings to come away with the win, but in a game like this the progress you saw from a team that is still very much a work in progress should be very encouraging.

But there is also the risk that a loss like this can hurt a team’s psyche. You get so fired up for a game, you want it so badly, seeing you play well and come up short could be devastating and spell more disaster to come. It would be very surprising if that were the case with this group though. There’s an understanding of a few things that can lead you to believe that won’t happen with this West Virginia team.

First, obviously, is the fact that they know they didn’t play as well as they could have. There were several missed chances that, if they had been successful, they probably win the game. It would be different if they played a perfect, nearly mistake-free, game and still lost.

There’s also the fact that not many teams on the WVU schedule this season will be much better than Alabama was. Quite frankly, if they can hang with the Crimson Tide on a stage like this, it’s not too egregious to claim that the Mountaineers can be right there any week no matter who they play.

This team truly believes that. It knows that it is so close to being a much better team. And sometimes, even after a loss like this, that’s all a team needs is to understand that no matter what they can still play with anyone on the other side of the stadium.

West Virginia has felt like that since the start of preseason, but Saturday night in the Georgia Dome they showed it.

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