West Virginia Took Care of Business in the Cactus Bowl, and Earned the Right to Be Optimistic.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the first time since the Orange Bowl, West Virginia ended its season with a win, earning the right to look ahead with heads held high.

This would have been an inexplicable loss. Watching the Cactus Bowl, there was no question who the better team was. West Virginia out-classed Arizona State at every turn last night, but nearly found itself in a familiar situation; on the losing end of a game it should have won.

Instead, the Mountaineers proved they have grown this year. West Virginia's much maligned junior quarterback, Skyler Howard, threw for a Cactus Bowl record yardage total, and head coach Dana Holgorsen leaped and bounded into the off-season with his program’s first eight-win season since joining the Big 12.

Fans have asked for signs of improvement all year, well, as one particularly un-funny comedian often says: Here’s your sign.

Say what you want about the coach, about what he wears, about how he acts on the sideline, but make sure you talk about his accomplishments too. This team could have mailed it in after a deflating regular season finale loss at Kansas State that had many saying “Here we go again.”

Unlike years past, there is no quitting in this team’s DNA. For a class of seniors that navigated the tricky journey of a conference change and countless other obstacles, there was no other way to go out but on top.

Think of it as one last gift from this special group of players. Instead of another long off-season filled with questions about whether this program is actually headed in the right direction, you can look ahead with optimism.

Sure, losing these seniors will pose quite the hefty challenge when it comes to finding suitable replacements, especially on defense, but that is why they pay the coaches.

This also does wonders for those men in charge of leading this team. Instead of walking into recruits’ homes with hat in hand, talking about how they can be part of the first team to win a bowl game since January of 2012, they can boast about West Virginia finally holding its own in a rough-and-tumble Big 12.

For the first time in a long time, the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into view. Remember, Dana Holgorsen is still figuring this thing out folks. He’s come a long way as a coach in five years as a head coach, and he has a long way yet to climb.

But that’s a good thing. That means the ceiling has not yet been reached. This is a coach on the rise and a program on the rise.

You could see how much this game meant in Holgorsen’s demeanor during the game. He was living and dying with his players. In a world of buttoned-up, Belichick-ian personalities in coaches across the game, I find Dana Holgorsen’s style incredibly refreshing.

You can tell it resonates with his players, too, and why wouldn’t it? You need to look no farther than the sideline for a source of energy and inspiration.

Of course, Holgorsen’s antics are much better received when the team is winning, and that’s just what the Mountaineers did last night.

There is nobody more invested in this team than its exuberant head coach, and he and his team have finally earned an off-season of optimism. 

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