Preseason Top 5:5)Florida State4)Oklahoma3)Southern California2)LSU... And one??Who is missing???— Dari Nowkhah (@ESPNDari) April 3, 2012
For West Virginia:K-State, TCU, OU, Baylor all go to Morgantown.Big 12 road games: Texas, Tech, OkState, Iowa State - better than all 4.— Dari Nowkhah (@ESPNDari) April 3, 2012
Okay, so when I first told WVUIE97 that Dari Nowkhah picked WVU as his 2012 NCAA football preseason #1, his reaction was "Dari who? I have no idea who that is." Which, of course, is a fair reaction for a guy who spends his free time as the frontman for the alternative band The Fray. Relevant to our discussion, though, Dari Nowkhah is an anchor for ESPN's Sportscenter. Which means that until WVU moved to the Big XII, he was required by contract to hate us. Now? That's about the farthest thing from the truth. After the Mountaineers' 37-point beatdown of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Dari has jumped on the bandwagon, thrown the driver out the window, and engaged the Nitrous. As you can tell, Dana Holgorsen and company have a new fanboy in the media, and frankly it's not one that any of us would have expected.
Not that Dari hated WVU before all this. Well, he might have, given that clause in his contract. But frankly, nobody really knew or cared what he thought about college football. He's a Sportscenter anchor, not a college football "analyst" like Kirk Herbstreit or Mark May, or even a "columnist" like Ivan Maisel or a "blogger" like Andrea Adelson. (And yes, I use those terms loosely.) Well, suffice to say he has now endeared himself to Mountaineer fans across the country by picking WVU as his preseason #1 team.
I'm actually confounded by his prediction, though. Sure, the Mountaineers looked fantastic against the ACC champion Tigers in the Orange Bowl. Trying to look at that game objectively, though, it didn't give me the feeling that WVU stepped into the nearest phone booth and emerged as the team to beat in 2012. Clemson gave WVU opportunity after opportunity. Yes, the Mountaineers capitalized on those, but three second quarter turnovers led directly to 21 WVU points, 7 less points for Clemson, and a huge swing of momentum. Momentum aside, had all that not happened, your final score is 49-40 and nobody is talking about WVU as a top ten team. Keep in mind, that was the same team that lost at home to Louisville and got blown out by a Syracuse team that didn't make a bowl. Oh yeah, and the four best players off the defense (the one that gave up 49 points to an Orange offense headed by Ryan Nassib) are off to the NFL draft.
Is there reason to be optimistic in 2012? Absolutely. The offense returns everyone of note, gets back a pretty good offensive lineman in Josh Jenkins, and has a chance to add more pieces at wide receiver and running back. After a year and a half with Dana Holgorsen, Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and company should be ready to rock. Scoring won't be an issue. Given the addition of Joe DeForest and a renewed emphasis on special teams, the punting, kicking and return games should be improved as well. And there's talent on defense---Will Clarke is an underrated lineman, Jared Barber, Doug Rigg, and Josh Francis have ability at linebacker, and Darwin Cook, Terence Garvin, Pat Miller, and Brodrick Jenkins give some stability and experience to a secondary that will surely be tested in the Big XII.
And as Nowkhah points out, the schedule is favorable. Quite favorable, in fact. The best two teams on the schedule---Oklahoma and Kansas State---both come to Morgantown. Texas is talented, but hasn't been the same Texas the last few years despite having elite talent. The rest of the teams on the slate all have issues, such as Baylor and Oklahoma State losing key playmakers, TCU dealing with drug suspensions, Texas Tech being coached by Tommy Tuberville, and Kansas and Iowa State being...Kansas and Iowa State. Can we lose one or more of those games? I think if WVU has proven anything over the years, it's capable of losing to anyone. And I mean anyone. If I'm doing the prognosticating (which I guess I am right now, huh?), I think we split the OU/K-State games, and drop one on the road to either Texas, Oklahoma State or Iowa State to finish 10-2, and ranked around #10.
So what do we gather from all this? What does this say about our newest bandwagon captain?
like love your optimism. No, really...I do. But putting WVU at #1 when everyone else in the universe has the Mountaineers pegged between #12 and #15? In a new conference with a new defense? You're crazy, man. I love you, but you're crazy.