October brings opportunity for West Virginia

If Skyler Howard and West Virginia can run the gauntlet of their October schedule, then the Mountaineers will no doubt be in the College Football Playoff conversation by November. Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

West Virginia has a chance to send a message in Norman, Oklahoma on Saturday.

Throughout the offseason, the Mountaineers remembered their performance as they beat Baylor and as they took TCU to the final minutes in 2014. In the halls of the Milan Puskar Center, there is an undeniable belief that Dana Holgorsen's program is ready to win its first Big 12 title.

Yet when the Big 12 preseason poll was released, the Mountaineers didn't even land a spot in the top half of the conference, sitting sixth in the ranking. The national preseason polls were just as dismissive with West Virginia landing one vote in the AP poll.

Three games into the season, people are starting to take notice of the Mountaineers, who have earned a spot in the Top 25. But nothing they've done to this point would grab national attention more like a win over No. 15 Oklahoma. A road win at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium would send a message.

"If a message is sent, that's what it is," safety K.J. Dillon said. "But we're just trying to win this game."

A win has the potential to be a springboard for the No. 23-ranked Mountaineers. After the visit to Oklahoma, West Virginia hosts No. 20 Oklahoma State followed by trips to No. 5 Baylor and No. 4 TCU before Halloween.

Game 1 of the four-game stretch could be the toughest. The Sooners stand as one of the few thorns in the side of the Mountaineers since they entered the conference in 2012. Oklahoma and Kansas State are the only two teams that West Virginia hasn't beaten in the past three years.

More importantly, the Sooners are the only conference team that sent the Mountaineers home with a feeling they simply weren't good enough after a 45-33 home loss in 2014. Texas, the Mountaineers only other conference loss by more than six points a year ago, is generally remembered as a disappointing performance altered by memories of the last-second defeat to TCU the previous Saturday.

"That [Oklahoma game] and Alabama was like, 'Well, we lost that one, there's nothing we can do,'" Dillon said. "We feel like they outreached and outplayed us."

In a lot of ways a win over Bob Stoops team could prove to themselves, as well as the nation, that they are ready for all challengers on the road to Big 12 title contention.

"If we do what we need to do and win this game, I'm sure people will start to look this way more," Dillon said. "We have to win this game then go game by game, week by week."

When asked his dream scenario for his first season as starting quarterback at West Virginia, Skyler Howard was direct and quick with his response.

"Finish the season as Big 12 champions," Howard said. "If you don't shoot high, what are you shooting for? The whole time I've been here that's been the talk. Dream scenario is to win a national championship, which I think we can do. I think a lot of people are sleeping on us but we don't let that bother us."

The work of turning that dream scenario into a reality starts Saturday.

While it's a brutal schedule, it's also an opportunity. If West Virginia is able to emerge from October unscathed, it is hard to imagine a scenario that doesn't see them in the thick of the debate for a spot in the College Football Playoff when the calendar turns to November.

"I feel like it's a challenge for us," Dillon said. "We want to be the best, that's what we kept saying in the offseason. So, here it is. It's laid out perfect for us."