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Texas bowl eligibility depends on win against West Virginia

Saturday's outcome will determine the length of the offseason for the Longhorns.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Texas Longhorns needed a win over a ranked West Virginia Mountaineers team to reach five wins and preserve a legitimate shot at bowl eligibility.

This season, the Mountaineers are not currently ranked in the top 25, but the stakes are the same -- win the game and then go for that critical sixth win against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Thanksgiving or face a long offseason.

The challenge this season is more significant, however, as the current version of the Horns must travel to Morgantown instead of hosting the Mountaineers and has played poorly in each of the three true road games this season, getting blow out in each. And there's the fact that Football Study Hall's metric gives Texas an 11 percent win probability this weekend.

That's almost twice as high as the win probability for the Red River Showdown and West Virginia does have a middling 4-4 record, but S&P+ loves the Mountaineers, ranking head coach Dana Holgorsen's squad as the No. 15 team in the nation.

Having faced the second-hardest schedule in the country is a big part of that ranking despite the record and both the offense and defense are top-25 units in the same metric, with the run defense ranking among the top five nationally. As much as the prior road struggles for the Longhorns are a major cause for concern, a potential inability to run the football would likely determine the outcome in favor of the home team.

Regardless of what happens on the field in Morgantown over the course of 60 minutes on Saturday, there's no question that being prepared to step onto it and play at a high level is crucial for this team -- it may be not win the game during the week and in the lead up to kickoff on Saturday morning, but it can definitely lose it.

Still, head coach Charlie Strong doesn't believe that he needs to change up the game week routine for his inconsistent players.

"No, our guys have to understand how important it is, but I don't know if you need to change up anything," Strong said Monday. "It's all about the buildup, and the buildup has got to start at practice and has got to carry on. You look at us, and we go beat Kansas State, and then for some reason you're going into Iowa State, you expect to go play well and we don't go play well there."

In an ideal scenario, the attitude the team displayed on Sunday will still be present and apparent by the weekend.

"I think they know this, how important this game is," Strong said. "Even last night when we went to work, I didn't have to say much because they went out and they were locked in and focused, and they understood just how big this game is."

To keep them focused for West Virginia, Strong has followed through on his promise to avoid building the team up, even declining to show the normal Sunday highlights from Saturday's game.

With the regular-season finale against Baylor at McClain Stadium looking like an almost certain loss, Texas has two games to pick up two wins, giving the players a little bit of extra incentive to overcome those road woes.

Doing so is a pretty simple equation for Strong.

"When you're dealing with the group that we have, it's that we can play better and we just haven't played better."