WVU still finding motivation from preseason ranking

MORGANTOWN — All the talk around the WVU football team early in the season centered on the fact that the Mountaineers were picked dead last, 14th out of 14, in the Big 12’s preseason poll.

Fast-forward a couple of months and WVU is 6-3 through nine games with bowl eligibility already wrapped up. The Mountaineers have proven they’re far from the worst team in the league and still have an outside shot to make the Big 12 championship game.

Despite that, no one wearing the old gold and blue has forgotten about that number 14.

“As soon as we saw that, we were like ‘Oh wow, they clearly don’t respect us at all,’” offensive lineman Brandon Yates said Monday. “There’s no way they can look at us and say we’re the 14th team in the conference, it just didn’t make sense to me.”

Head coach Neal Brown reminds his players daily where they were picked.

“I think motivation is important,” Brown said. “It’s something that we keep in front of them because until the year’s over, we still have something to prove.

“That’s what people thought of us, that’s what they thought of the program at the start of the year. We’re out to prove that wrong right up until the end.”

WVU is currently in a five-way tie for third place in the Big 12. The Mountaineers are one of seven teams with only one or two conference losses this year.

“I think the main goal is trying to get to a conference championship, that’s still at stake,” tight end Kole Taylor said. “We’ve already locked in a bowl, but we’re trying to win out.”

This week’s game at Oklahoma (7 p.m./FOX) will have major implications on either the Sooners or Mountaineers making the championship game.

“If you want to win the championship, you have to win in November,” safety Aubrey Burks said. “That’s our whole mindset, we must win if we want to get to where we want to get to.”

Being picked last just might have been the best thing that could’ve happened to this team. It gave them a chip on their shoulder that they’ve carried throughout the year.

“It’s something that we carry over every week and we take great pride in,” Taylor said. “We play with a chip on our shoulder and I think that’s something West Virginia has done year in and year out.”

“We’re 14 until proven otherwise,” Yates said. “That’s never going to change, they’re going to look at us as 14. We just have to go out there and prove to people that we’re not.”

Yates also believes that the team now has a mindset that is reflective of the state as a whole.

“We believe in us, it’s like West Virginia, nobody believes in West Virginia,” Yates said. “The only people that believe in West Virginia are the people in West Virginia.”