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Examining West Virginia as a realignment 'loser'

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Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In looking at the realignment fortunes of Pitt and West Virginia since leaving the Big East, I've generally maintained that the Panthers have benefited while the Mountaineers have struggled.

Recently, FOX Sports took that stance as well.

The site didn't declare Pitt as one of their handful of winners, but they did claim that West Virginia came out as a loser:

3) West Virginia. By late 2011, then-AD Oliver Luck knew he had to get WVU out of the Big East, but landing an invite from the SEC or ACC proved unrealistic. Instead, the school began a clunky marriage with the Big 12, where it's nowhere near any of the other members. The Mountaineers, which went to three BCS bowls their last six years in the Big East, have gone 16-18 in four seasons of Big 12 play, with coach Dana Holgorsen running a similar Air Raid offense as half the league but without the same recruiting benefit of having the state of Texas in its backyard.

The brief paragraph does a pretty good job in hitting on the three major problems that have plagued West Virginia football since moving to the Big 12 - No real connection to the other members, a mediocre on-field project, and recruiting issues. Keeping this at least somewhat relevant to Pitt, conversely, the Panthers seem to have some advantages there. No, the on-field product hasn't been any better with two 6-6 seasons in the ACC following up the two 6-6 seasons they experienced in their final two Big East seasons. Pitt does seem to have an edge in the other two areas, though.

The Panthers aren't playing either of their two main rivals right now in Penn State and West Virginia, but that changes beginning next year when they face the Nittany Lions in a four-game series. Pitt also has at least some minor rivals in-conference with former Big East teams Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, and Louisville. Add in another school such as Notre Dame on occasion, and you've got at least some familiarity with opponents.

The recruiting is a little more complex, but Pitt is still positioned well there for the long haul (despite a slow start to the recruiting class for next year). While they haven't exactly dominated western Pennsylvania's recruiting landscape, the Panthers are are still sitting on top of fertile ground for top players. Even while the team has struggled the past four years, Pitt has managed to get occasional top recruits with local guys such as Dorian Johnson, Tyler Boyd, and Jordan Whitehead. West Virginia simply can't compete with the likes of Texas and Oklahoma in the midwest and while Pitt may not be able to compete with Florida State and Clemson, they at least have a home base that has plenty of talent.

Again, Pitt hasn't defended their home turf well enough. But all things being equal, the Panthers are in better shape with local players. Also, keep in mind that the Mountaineers and Panthers could be two programs headed in different directions. While both programs have struggled over the past three years, Pitt at least has the benefit of growing enthusiasm surrounding it with the hire of Pat Narduzzi, parting of ways with Steve Pederson (who, at the very least, caused some dissension between the school and some fans), and yes, (as silly as it sounds) the return of the script which fans have clamored for ever since it was removed.

None of that is to suggest that Pitt is guaranteed success, of course. But the point is that while the Panthers have a lot of enthusiasm around their football program, West Virginia's appears in disarray and has a coach that is very much on the hot seat.

So, is West Virginia a loser in conference realignment? Now that I've veered hopelessly off track, it's also a good time to say that I don't know that I'd go that far.

While Pitt may have weathered the whole realignment thing better, the Mountaineers are also in a much better position financially in the Big 12 than they were in the Big East. They're simply making too much money to be called a loser here.

And here's the thing - West Virginia may have some issues in their new conference, they still are better off had they remained in the Big East/AAC. They might have wanted to go to the ACC or SEC more, but the Big 12 is a pretty nice consolation prize and if they ever start winning more, the Mountaineers are in a place that makes the college football playoffs a possibility. They had to go somewhere and unlike Cincinnati and UConn, found a home.

The losses on the field have set the program back from their days of winning in the Big East, so in that respect, West Virginia hasn't had an easy transition to the Big 12. And for the reasons outlined above, I believe Pitt found a better fit than the Mountaineers did. But landing in the Big 12 was better than the alternative and it's difficult to claim that West Virginia is a loser in this.

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