The new season begins on Thursday with the return of Backyard Brawl
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like many Mountaineer football fans, Shane Lyons has been eagerly awaiting the return of Backyard Brawl for years.
When he became director of athletics at WVU in 2015, Lyons said one of his top priorities was to get 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 starts to the season in recent West Virginia history, and Lyons believes the wait has been worth it.
“I thought it was important to us. It’s important for college football to bring back some of these natural rivalries that we’ve had for years, but the conference realignment changed a few things,” Lyons said last week in an exclusive interview on The Neal Brown Show. “For us, the Pitt game, playing at Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech, bringing them back to our fans, that’s what college football is all about.”
Thursday’s season opener will be the 105ththe meeting between West Virginia and Pitt on the football field. The game has been listed as sold.
But head coach Neal Brown and the Mountaineers are underdogs going into their season-opening clash with Pitt. The Panthers are the reigning ACC champions, while the Mountaineers finished their 2021 campaign with a 6-7 record and a loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Bowl.
Those facts, not just the rivalry between the schools, make Thursday’s matchup “important” for the Mountaineers, according to Lyons.
“It’s a great game for the team to build momentum as we go through this season,” Lyons said. “Improvements need to be made on the field in the 2022 season, and that’s our hope, to be bowl eligible, 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 move up the Big 12 rankings this season is new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who previously coached at USC.
As the offseason began in January, Lyons and Brown agreed that WVU’s offense needed a “fresh 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 excited to have him on that staff, the creativity of him as the offensive coordinator and just a new light that he brings to that offense.”
Harrell’s new offense will make its debut Thursday night when the Mountaineers take on the Panthers at 7 pm 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.