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 director of athletics at WVU in 2015, Lyons said one of his top priorities was to put 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 highly anticipated season openers in recent memory for West Virginia, and Lyons thinks it’s been worth the wait.  

“I thought it was important for us. It’s important for college football to bring back some of these natural rivalries that we had for years, but conference realignment changed some things,” Lyons said last week in an exclusive interview for The Neal Brown Show. “For us, the Pitt game, playing Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech — to bring those back to our fans, that’s what I believe college football is all about.”  

The official 2022 Backyard Brawl logo. (Courtesy WVU Athletics.)

Thursday’s season opener will be the 105th meeting between West Virginia and Pitt on the football field. The game has been announced as a sellout.  

But head coach Neal Brown and the Mountaineers are underdogs entering their season-opening clash with Pitt. The Panthers are the reigning ACC champs, while the Mountaineers finished their 2021 campaign with a 6-7 record and a loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.  

Those facts, not just the rivalry between the schools, make Thursday’s matchup “important” for the Mountaineers, according to Lyons.  

“It’s a big game for the team to gain some momentum as we move forward in 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, be eligible for the Big 12 Championship, and be a contender for that.”  

RELATED: Four years added to Backyard Brawl

One person who could help the Mountaineers make a climb in the Big 12 standings 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 “fresh look,” and the director of athletics believes that’s something Harrell can provide.  

“You look at Graham’s past history, he’s been known to start off very quickly in a game, been very innovative,” Lyons said. “We’re just excited to have him as part of that staff, his creativeness as an offensive coordinator, and just some new light that he brings to that offense.”  

West Virginia offensive coordinator Graham Harrell instructs the offense of what to do prior to a passing drill at practice on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022 in Morgantown. (Photo: Jamie Green)

Harrell’s new-look offense will make its 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.