Historical look at difference in WVU seasons following bowl game appearances

Gold and Blue Nation

Does WVU football's past tell us anything about its future?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (GBN) – West Virginia University’s football program has played in 39 bowl games over the course of its history — including in all but three seasons in the 21st Century.

That’s tied for the 20th most appearances in NCAA history, and counts for more postseason games than other storied programs like Ole Miss (38), Notre Dame (37), Pittsburgh (35) and Virginia Tech (34).

After their most recent loss in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Mountaineer teams are 16-23 overall in bowl games — but can the outcome of a bowl game indicate how the next season will play out in any way?

Postseason bowl games started to gain popularity in the 1930s. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that the number of bowl games began to increase in a way that allowed more than just the very best teams in the country to play in them.

So we went back to the 1980 season, and looked back at all of WVU’s bowl game appearances from then to its recent trip to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. West Virginia is 11-20 in those appearances.

Here’s what the numbers tell us.

When WVU wins its bowl game …

West Virginia started the 1980s with a victory in the 1981 Peach Bowl over the Florida Gators, and won two more bowl games in that decade. But it wasn’t until 2000, in Don Nehlen’s last season as head coach, that the Mountaineers picked up another bowl game victory.

Postseason wins have been more frequent since, including historic wins in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, 2008 Fiesta Bowl, and 2012 Orange Bowl.

In the season immediately following a WVU bowl game victory, the Mountaineers have:

  • Secured two of the program’s five 11-win seasons (2006 and 2007).
  • Averaged 8.2 wins per season.
  • Won at least eight games seven times (or 64 percent of the time).
  • Won nine or more games six times.
  • Only had a sub-.500 record once.
  • Won a bowl game four times.
  • Lost a bowl game five times.
  • Not appeared in a bowl game twice.

It’s worth noting that the only time that West Virginia hasn’t had a winning record after a bowl victory since 1980 was in 2001. That was the first season of the post-Nehlen era, and then-head coach Rich Rodriguez coached the Mountaineers to a bowl game in each of his remaining six seasons in charge of the team.

When WVU loses its bowl game …

West Virginia was 0-8 in bowl games from 1987 through 1998. That stretch included the program’s only appearance in a national championship game in 1988.

After enjoying postseason success in four straight years from 2005 through 2008, the Mountaineers haven’t been able to win back-to-back bowl games since.

In the season immediately following a WVU bowl game defeat, the Mountaineers have:

  • Tallied two of the program’s five 11-win seasons (1988 and 2005).
  • Averaged 7.4 wins per season.
  • Won at least eight games 11 times (or 58 percent of the time).
  • Won nine or more games five times.
  • Had a sub.-500 record five times.
  • Won a bowl game four times.
  • Lost a bowl game 10 times.
  • Not appeared in a bowl game five times.

Traditionally, West Virginia has fared slightly better in years coming after a bowl game win.

However, Mountaineer fans should consider this:

Since WVU’s first appearance in a bowl game in 1937, West Virginia has never had back-to-back years with a losing record following a defeat in a bowl game. It has, though, happened on two separate occasions after a postseason victory. However, both instances were prior to the 1960s.

This means no postseason loss has started a string of unsuccessful seasons.

Bowling west of Texas

While West Virginia has played most of its bowl games in the Eastern and Central Time Zones, it has played five postseason games west of Texas since 1980.

The Mountaineers followed up their 1988 title game appearance with an 8-3-1 record.

The 2008 Mountaineer team followed up the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma with a 9-4 record, and another bowl game victory.

And in 2016, West Virginia carried momentum from a high-powered win in the Cactus Bowl to the program’s most-recent 10-win season.

Only in 1999, following an appearance in the Insight.com Bowl, did WVU follow a bowl game appearance in Arizona with a losing record (4-7).

What does it all mean?

There are plenty of factors that dictate the outcome of a season. Admittedly, it’s impossible to truly quantify the significance of the outcome of a previous season’s bowl game from one team to the next.

However, more than 40 years of WVU football history does present some trends.

Four of the program’s five 11-win seasons have come after a bowl game appearance. West Virginia averages 7.7 wins per season following a trip to the postseason. And if you exclude the sub.-500 record seasons in Rodriguez and Neal Brown’s first year with the program, that average improves to eight wins per season.

The Mountaineers have also won at least eight games 60 percent of the time in the season immediately after playing in a bowl game.

Only six times has WVU had a losing season following a bowl game appearance.

Historically, the Mountaineers largely have found a way to get to at least six wins in the year after playing in the postseason. More often than not, they win more than just six.

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