ELKINS - Despite the toughest schedule in its history, high hopes abound for the West Virginia University football team this year.
The Mountaineers open their season vs. No. 2 Alabama Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee is excited about the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
"We are playing some of the best teams in that nation almost immediately," Gee said during his stop in Elkins Saturday. "Obviously, starting off with Alabama is a real challenge, but it is also an opportunity. Unless you take the challenge, you don't get the opportunity. He (Alabama Coach Nick Saban) is a West Virginian. So, there are a lot of stories within stories there. I think it's great for the state, and I think it is great for the university.
After the clash with the Crimson Tide, the 2014 slate doesn't lighten up much, save the Sept. 6 home opener against Towson. Then, it's on to Maryland, No. 3 Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech, No. 10 Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU, No. 24 Texas, No. 21 Kansas State and Iowa State.
It seems there's hardly any time to take a breather this season, with ranked opponents aplenty - preseason at least - not to mention being in one of the toughest conferences in all of college football.
After finishing 4-8 last season and not making a bowl game, the Mountaineer faithful are looking for a rebound, and a considerable one at that.
Gee, too, is looking for the same, especially since his last university president's post was at Big 10 powerhouse Ohio State.
"I think the future of West Virginia athletics, in general, and I think the future of football is very positive," Gee said. "We're in a very competitive league, which is good for us. We defend the eastern border of the Big 12, which is also very good for us."
Those positives aside, opening the season versus the No. 2-ranked team in the nation seemingly could make or break the entire year - not to mention, facing Oklahoma for the season's third contest. There will be little time to make adjustments to the game plan if things go awry, which could be disastrous.
Aside from those negatives, Gee is 100 percent correct. West Virginia University football never will rise to the status of a national powerhouse if we don't play ball with the big boys. No slight on the Big East, but when teams started departing and new ones came in, the competition was a little less than stellar.
Sure, it's great to make a bowl appearance each year and run rampant in the regular season schedule, but if the competition throughout the season is not on par, disaster strikes swiftly in the postseason. That, ultimately, can do more harm than good to the overall reputation of a program.
Gee, though, points to the strengths of the coaches.
"Our basketball program is doing very well," Gee said. "Of course, Coach (Mike) Carey, the women's coach, is one of the very best in the nation.
"Obviously, Bob Huggins is a world-class coach. So, We have much to be proud of."
"I would never make any prediction, but I have a high expectation that our students perform as students, and I have a high expectation that our athletes do well," Gee added. "If we want to play football in the very best possible way. If we are going to teach physics, we want to be world-class. If we are going to have a business school, we want it to be the very best. So, the issue of high expectations is something that I always have whether it be athletics or academics. It's a challenging schedule, that's for sure. That's the reason why we are in the Big 12 now. I think it's great for our athletic program."
Although many people don't agree, WVU is perfectly positioned in the Big 12 to grow into its own on the football field. With a stellar roster of coaches across the board, West Virginia football will survive these past couple lean years and come out on top. But, it may take more time.