Former head coach Dana Holgorsen had the West Virginia Mountaineers with a top 3 offense in the Big 12 conference three times during his tenure: 2012, 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, his defenses those years ranked 10th, 7th and 5th respectively. He twice had a top 2 defense in 2015 and 2016. His offenses ranked 7th and 6th in conference respectively. In only his second year, Neal Brown has the Mountaineers with both top 3 offense and a top 3 defense. Currently the Mountaineers rank third in offensive points per game at 33 behind only Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns. The Mountaineers also boast the best defense in conference. Oklahoma can boast a top 3 offense and defense but no one else. So the question has to be asked, SHOULD (yes all caps) this team contend for a Big 12 title?
Yes, They Should
The simple fact is that if you have one of the better offenses and the best defense in the conference, you have to take advantage. The Mountaineers are not going to feature a top offense and defense in the same year consistently and not making a Big 12 Conference Championship Game when they do have the better units is a waste. The Mountaineers are holding teams to less than 100 yards rushing, less than 160 yards passing and 255 total yards while allowing only 19 points a game. The numbers state that this team has the skill to make a run at the first big prize; a conference championship.
On offense, the Mountaineers throw for the second most yards per game at 292 per game, behind only the Sooners. With a seasoned quarterback in Jarret Doege and receivers who are improving in Sam James, Winston Wright and Bryce Ford-Wheaton, the Mountaineer have at least three receivers who can change a game. With the emergence of Leddie Brown and the improvement by the offensive line, the Mountaineers 172 yards on the ground per game ranks third in conference and their total yards ranks second at 464 yards per game. Since both marks are top 3 in conference, it bodes well that the Mountaineers can move the ball both through the air and on the ground.
On defense, the Mountaineers allow the fewest passing yards, the fewest rushing yards, the fewest total yards and the second fewest points per game. That type of dominance can’t be wasted when it comes along and it is a type of defense that can be game-changing. The Stills brothers get a lot of the attention but there are playmakers at all three levels and all that are capable of turning mistakes into points and preventing the other team from scoring.
A top 3 offense that is as balanced as the Mountaineers are and a top overall defense that is dominant in all the phases like the Mountaineers are - cannot be wasted.
No, It’s Too Soon
No, the Mountaineers shouldn’t be expected to make a conference championship game and its mostly because they are still too young but also because the current numbers are mirage. Yes, the numbers might currently indicate they are a top offense and defense but they most likely won’t be by season’s end and if the seasons’ numbers even out to the point that the Mountaineers are a top 5 or 6 offense with a top 3 defense, that shouldn’t automatically give them expectations to make a conference championship.
While it is fun to look at the stats and see the Mountaineers near the top it should also be noted that they have played four of the five worst teams offensively: Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech. The only two with an offensive pulse, the Oklahoma State Cowboys scored 27 points on the Mountaineers. Texas Tech scored 27 on the defense and 7 on a defensive touchdown. None of those teams are the Oklahoma Sooners or the Texas Longhorns, both of whom average over 40 points per game.
Offensively, it remains to be seen if the season long case of the drops that has plagued the wide receivers is cured because if its not, and one game doesn’t prove that it is, you can’t expect the offense to continue to put up close to 300 yards per game. If the passing offense can’t do its part to help keep defenses off of Leddie Brown, it won’t matter how good or violent Leddie Brown is when he runs because he can’t outrun 11 defenders.
In the end, just like every other year, the Mountaineers aren’t going to have a top 3 offense so the expectation shouldn’t be for them to make it to the conference championship game...this year. It will come, just not now.