West Virginia

Geno Smith and West Virginia made their case in the Big East. This season the Mountaineers will try to prove their worth in the Big 12.

Overview: Many expect major success from the Mountaineers in their first season in the Big 12. West Virginia went 9-3 in the Big East last year before catching everyone’s imagination with a 70-33 massacre of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The program is beginning its second year under head coach and offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, and it retains quarterback Geno Smith, wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and three offensive linemen who started last season. That is important because the offense is likely to remain the bread and butter of this team. In 2011 the Mountaineers went 2-2 in games in which they scored fewer than 30 points.

This season, the West Virginia offense will weather tests from the defenses of Oklahoma and Texas, among others, instead of racking up yardage against competition like Connecticut and Rutgers. Also, because of the round robin format of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will play nine conference games instead of seven.

While the West Virginia offense is expected to make a big splash in the team’s new league, the defense could have a more difficult time. That unit was not the team’s strong suit to begin with, and the Mountaineers lost four All-Big East players from last season’s group. Of course, West Virginia made adjustments over the summer, including hiring Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson as co-defensive coordinators and Erik Slaughter as coach of the defensive line. With the personnel changes comes a change in scheme, from the 3-3-5 utilized by a former coordinator Jeff Casteel to a more conventional 3-4 that can move to a 4-3 when desired.

Schedule: Even though this season’s schedule should be much more difficult than the lineup West Virginia faced in the Big East last year, it has its perks. For instance, the Mountaineers face Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma in Morgantown. They begin the conference season at Baylor, a team which could be mediocre this year after the graduation of Robert Griffin III. West Virginia ends the season by playing two teams who finished among the worst last year in the Big 12, Iowa State and Kansas.

Projection: Suffice it to say I am not one of those who believes the Mountaineers will storm in and win the Big 12 in their first season in the league. I don’t think so. The difference in the caliber of teams is too great for West Virginia to come in and dominate automatically.

In the Big East last season, five of eight teams earned bowl eligibility. In the Big 12 last season, eight of 10 teams went to the postseason. The Big East had three teams that won eight games or more in 2011. The Big 12 had six teams that won eight games or more.

I’m not saying West Virginia will not do well this year. However, I don’t see the Mountaineers instantly owning the league like so many seem to believe they will. My guess would be between seven and nine wins for them this year.

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