West Virginia: The Wary Traveler
There really is no place like home.
And for head coach Dana Holgorsen and his Mountaineers, that statement couldn't be any truer.
Since Holgorsen's first season at West Virginia in 2011, the Mountaineers are 31-15 when playing at home and are 21-22 when playing away from Morgantown. And when you delve a little deeper into the underlying issue, it's not the offense that comes up short.
It's the defense.
In 2017, West Virginia's offense actually totaled over 50 yards more per game and more points on the road than they did it home. The defense and more specifically the rush defense, however, allowed more than 50 yards rushing per contest and a full touchdown more on the road than they did at home.
If West Virginia plans on realizing its dream of competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff or even an opportunity at a Big XII title, the Mountaineers will need to limit their miscues on the road and find ways to win games when playing in front of hostile crowds.
The first opportunity to do so presents itself against Tennesssee in Charlotte.
Bank of America Stadium won't be unfamiliar waters for a West Virginia team that has played in two season-opening neutral site games since 2014. Unfortunately, they dropped both of those contests against Alabama in Atlanta and versus Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland. Tennessee, however, is not Alabama or even Virginia Tech. The Vols enter the 2018 season coming off a 2017 campaign without a conference win and an entirely new coaching staff with entirely new schemes.
Though their expectations have been humbled, Tennessee fans will travel very well. Which means there will be just as many fans rooting for the Mountaineers as there will be hoping for their demise.
The first true test of West Virginia's mettle comes in week three against North Carolina State in Raleigh. Like the Mountaineers, the Wolfpack boast their own Heisman candidate in Ryan Finley and are coming off its best season since 2010. And if you're into the whole win predictability thing, the Mountaineers have less than a 50% chance of making it out of Raleigh with a win according to ESPN.
For that matter, "The Worldwide Leader" doesn't believe West Virginia has a greater than 43% chance to win a single true road game all season long.
Imagine a scenario in which the Mountaineers start the season 8-0 with road wins over North Carolina State, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
Undoubtedly, an undefeated start to the 2018 season will lead to a monumental-sized target on the Mountaineers' back, meaning teams like Texas and Oklahoma State will relish the chance to knock off the league leader in front of its home fans.
Forget about Oklahoma and Texas Christian . . . for now. Forget about every game the Mountaineers will play at home.
West Virginia's season will be determined in the outcomes of the games it plays on the road.