Has there ever been a WVU football season as hyped as this one? The elders among us certainly remember when Beano Cook declared that WVU would win the National Championship in 1988, but that was before the dawn of mass media, interwebs, and the 24 hour news cycle. Sure, there was a higher preseason rankings in 2004 (that team torn apart by egos) and again in 2006 when WVU landed White/Slaton/Schmitt on the SI cover (Slaton made another appearance in 2007 as well). Even that was a bit watered down coverage-wise, from my perspective at least (I didn't really follow the blogosphere until after the 2007 season).
Now, once again, WVU has a very bright spotlight being shone on its football program. The jump to the Big 12 alone would have made this a memorable season, but this is a team that is seemingly loaded for a run. The offense is in the second year of Coach Holgorsen's system (traditionally when it really seems to take off) with hardly any new faces and coming off a 70-33 throttling of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. There are also legitimate Heisman candidates in Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. This offense should simply put up a ton of points. It all looks good so far, but...
This team also has some big questions to answer on defense (this isn't an indictment or doubt in the players and coaches, just questions). First among them is how will the new scheme hold up with new coaches and moving into said new conference, one that is known for high powered offenses. Coach Holgorsen stated at the end of camp that they're still repping 15 D-linemen, trying to find the right mix. There's also the matter of getting more bodies at DB to cover the the often wide open offenses in the Big 12. Baylor finished 10-3 last year with a high powered offense and virtually no defense (ranked 113th). Some of the bloggers and commenters around the league think 2012 WVU may just be 2011 Baylor 2.0. We won't know for several weeks into the season. This defense has definite potential, but until we see it in action, it's a big question mark.
There's also the matter of special teams questions. There is little argument that coverage and increased consistency in the kicking game must improve over last year. Luckily, new DC Joe DeForest is somewhat of a special teams guru, but even then, the players still have to execute.
Those are the major issues facing WVU, but who has the best potential to hang L's on our Mountaineers? In this league, just about any team has the potential to knock off the Mountaineers on a given week, but here's my picks for the most likely suspects:
- The defense in Austin is looking very much like it could be the best in the country this season, but the Longhorns have a big question mark at QB.
- TCU also enters the league with a potent offense and experienced QB, but major attrition on defense is their biggest flaw in my view.
- The Pokes also have the high powered offense held over from Coach Holgorsen's days there, but have a freshman at QB.
- WVU may have dodged a bullet having the Black Friday scheduled Riot Bowl in Ames being played mid-afternoon instead of at night.
- Never doubt a Bill Snyder led K-State team.
That brings us to the Sooners. Oklahoma comes into Morgantown mid-November for what many are pointing to as possibly THE key game in the Big 12 slate this season. The Sooners have a great offense led by veteran Landry Jones and a stout defense, once again being led by the other Stoops brother. Offensive line attrition is looking to be Oklahoma's Achilles heel. The atmosphere should be electric for this one. Can we pull off another one like LSU last year (fan atmosphere, not the game result)?
Even on WVU's best days, that's at least five legitimate possible losses. A bad day on offense, health issues and the other teams playing lights out could mean even more than those five. I was talking to Smitty yesterday and I told him I wouldn't be surprised by records of anything between 11-1 and 7-5. Perfect would surprise me, if only because of the quality of the league WVU now competes in. The capability is certainly there to do so, but I still think it would be surprising. More than five losses also would also surprise me based on this offense's capability alone. Personally, I think WVU finishes with 2 losses (although, I'm not sure which ones quite yet). How do you see the WVU record playing out this season?