The new season kicks off Thursday with the return of Backyard Brawl
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like many Mountaineer football fans, Shane Lyons has been eagerly awaiting the return of the Backyard Brawl for years.
When he became athletic director at WVU in 2015, Lyons said one of his top priorities was getting the Backyard Brawl back on the schedule.
After years of waiting, the return of the series is upon us: West Virginia will open its 2022 schedule Thursday night on the road against the Panthers.
It’s one of the most anticipated season starts in recent memory for West Virginia, and Lyons thinks it was worth the wait.
“I thought it was important for us. It’s important for college football to bring back some of those natural rivalries we’ve had for years, but the conference realignment has changed some things,” Lyons said last week in an exclusive interview for The Neal Brown Show. “For us, the Pitt game, playing at Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech — to bring them back to our fans, that’s what I think college football is all about.”
Thursday’s season opener will be 105e meeting between West Virginia and Pitt on the football field. The game was advertised to a sold-out crowd.
But head coach Neal Brown and the Mountaineers are underdogs entering their season-opening clash with Pitt. The Panthers are the defending ACC champions, while the Mountaineers finished their 2021 campaign with a 6-7 record and a loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Those facts, and not just the school rivalry, make Thursday’s game “significant” for the Mountaineers, according to Lyons.
“It’s a big game for the team to build momentum as we move forward this season,” Lyons said. “Improvements need to be made on the court in the 2022 season, and it’s our hope, to be eligible for bowling, to be eligible for the Big 12 championship and to be a contender for that.”
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One person who could help the Mountaineers climb the Big 12 rankings this season is new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who previously coached at USC.
When the offseason began in January, Lyons and Brown agreed that the WVU offense needed a “new look,” and the athletic director believes that’s something Harrell can provide.
“You look at Graham’s past history, he’s been known to start very quickly in a game, he’s been very innovative,” Lyons said. “We’re just thrilled to have him on this staff, his creativity as an attacking coordinator and the new light he brings to this attack.”
Harrell’s new offense will debut Thursday night when the Mountaineers meet the Panthers at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Watch Gold and Blue Nation’s exclusive interview with Lyons at the top of this page and tune in to The Neal Brown Show this Friday and Saturday for another conversation with WVU’s top athletics official.