West Virginia Football: Creating a Dream Schedule for Mountaineers in 2012-2013
"Hello darkness, my old friend."
I could be wrong, but I think Simon and Garfunkel were thinking about that dreaded time during the year when college football is on hiatus as they wrote those lyrics.
Like I said, I could be wrong.
With all the buildup and budding anticipation for Dana Holgorsen and the megatons of offense being brought with him to Morgantown, W. Va., it seemed like the 2011-2012 season would never come.
Now, it seems it came and went in the blink of an eye.
Holgorsen delivered on the hype, though, as the West Virginia Mountaineers tallied a 10-3 record and absolutely massacred Clemson in the Orange Bowl, 70-33.
Now, we can resume with the speculation as to what the future holds for West Virginia. Foremost amongst all the things yet to be determined is which conference West Virginia will call home in the coming year.
Since that issue is no doubt the most oft discussed of any concerning the Mountaineers football program, I decided it's only right to have a little fun with it.
Some of you will think this is completely absurd, others might even have a chuckle or two. I'm hoping it's a bit of both.
Without regard for conference affiliation or distance between venues, I've come up with the dream schedule for the Mountaineers in the 2012-2013 season.
Week 1: Marshall
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Yeah, I know: It's Marshall (sigh).
But who doesn't like to start out each season with a win? In this case, West Virginia can certainly claim series supremacy with an 11-0 all-time record.
While it might not rank among the greatest, or even moderately entertaining in state rivalries in the country (save for 2010's come-from-behind win), it still benefits the state of West Virginia by having its two Division-I programs square off against one another to open up the season.
Marshall certainly brings its all to this game, as beating West Virginia is A) something it has yet to do in the school's history, and B) well, pretty much the same as the first point. It's never beaten West Virginia.
With the three-headed monster that is Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey all back for yet another year, this would be a great way to showcase some serious offensive fireworks and get the juices flowing in early September.
Yes, Rakeem Cato looked OK as a freshman, leading the Herd to a bowl win over FIU. Still, Doc Holliday will need a little more firepower to keep up with the Mountaineers.
Result: West Virginia wins in a 54-7 blowout. Rakeem Cato gets picked three times by an improved Mountaineer secondary and Marshall's defense gets burned for more than 500 yards.
That night, Holgorsen volunteers to DD to the casino down in Nitro. Huntington High prepares to start classes the following Monday.
Week 2: Virginia Tech
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How sweet would this be?
We almost had it this year in the Orange Bowl, but the Hokies just had to go and get pole-axed by Clemson in the ACC title game. I'm honestly still not sure who ended up worse as a result of that game.
Virginia Tech and West Virginia had one of the best rivalries in the Big East during the conference's hay day. It was a border war between two programs with well-established histories and a healthy dislike for one another.
Virginia Tech's departure for the ACC in the 2004 season marked the beginning of the Big East's decline and effectively put an end to a rivalry that has had 50 different editions, with West Virginia leading 28-21-1.
The tension is still very much there, however, and a matchup of two current Top 20 teams would certainly be a fantastic way to kickstart the season and provide each team a quality test, early on.
Logan Thomas may be a budding star in Blacksburg, but David Wilson is preparing himself for Sundays. While Bud Foster's defense ranked seventh this season in points per game (17.6), Dana Holgorsen's air raid bears some similarities to the Clemson offense that burned Virginia Tech on two separate occasions this year.
Result: West Virginia wins 48-21. Expect Geno Smith to have a Heisman-esque day through the Morgantown sky (it's definitely going to be played in Morgantown, by the way), sending Frank Beamer's boys back to Blacksburg with their first big loss of the year.
Holgorsen goes home after this game and deep fries a turkey while Frank Beamer checks nation-wide stats to make sure his special teams are still better than yours.
Week 3: Miami
Quite the trip down memory lane, huh?
Miami fits right into the same fold as Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes were members of the Big East during its peak years, you know, before the Big East was a punchline and Connecticut was even considered as a viable contender in a BCS game.
...I still can't get over Connecticut.
I digress. The point is that Miami has been the opposing force in some of the greatest games in Mountaineer history, 2003 (pictured above) and 1993 being just two of the more memorable ones.
While the U's legacy may be more prolific than West Virginia's, it's nice to point out that while Virginia Tech has managed to win consistently since its move to the ACC, Miami has taken a couple steps back due in large part to several head coaching changes and the revelation of a multi-million dollar ponzi scheme involving one of Miami's biggest boosters.
Still, Al Golden has started putting the pieces back together in South Beach. With West Virginia looking strong and Miami attempting to reassert itself, this game could figure to be a reasonably entertaining reiteration of one of West Virginia's favorite series from years past.
However, Golden doesn't quite have the formula down, yet. While Miami's defense played solidly this season, expect a huge hangover from the departure of quarterback Jacory Harris, whose absence will be strongly noted as Miami tries to improve upon a 6-6 record.
Result: West Virginia rolls the 'Canes 45-10 in an all-out team effort. Geno once again throws for 350-plus yards and Dustin Garrison busts a couple of big runs.
The 'Canes return home to help the Dolphins skip the line at a South Beach club while Holgorsen and Bob Huggins stay up all night listening to Jimmy Buffett.
Week 4: Arizona
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"Why Arizona?" you ask.
The answer should be obvious.
Not only has Rich Rod taken up residency there as the new head ball coach, but as of today it is official that Jeff Casteel, Bill Kirelawich and Dave Lockwood are all flocking to join his staff as well.
Now, in the spirit of well-wishing, I tip my hat to Casteel. He's had some great years at West Virginia and fielded a few outstanding defensive units.
Still, it's not a head coaching job or even a move up to a more prestigious program. It's a lateral move to a program that hasn't exactly taken the Pac-12 by storm in, oh, say, never. It will be a total rebuilding effort on both Casteel and Rodriguez's part.
Offense wasn't Arizona's problem in 2011-2012 as quarterback Nick Foles threw for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns. By now, though, everyone knows what kind of system Rich Rod runs, and it certainly doesn't suit a pass-first guy like Foles.
On the flip side, Arizona's defense was tragic this past year (35.4 PPG) and Casteel's 3-3-5 isn't what some would consider an easy system to install.
In short, the folks in Tuscon need to brace for a rebuilding process that figures to be more than just an overnight job.
So, while this game wouldn't necessarily plant the seed for a great OOC rivalry, it sure would be sweet to give some old faces a glimpse of what they left behind.
Result: The Wildcats get beat at home 55-14. Uncle Rich's spread looks about as predictable as it did in any of his three years at Michigan and Casteel's early stage 3-3-5 would get peppered by UCLA, much less Heisman contender Geno Smith.
Afterward, Rich Rod treats his team to an authentic Sonoran meal at Taco Bell, while Holgorsen and his team make armadillo helmets for the plane ride home.
Week 5: Oklahoma
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Leave. No. Doubt.
There are only a handful of things that we remain in Bill Stewart's debt for, but that little canticle is surely one of them.
The 2008 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma essentially saved West Virginia from being forever ruined by its disastrous loss to Pitt only weeks before. It was also one of—if not the—greatest upset ever pulled by the Mountaineers.
Now, I know I said this article was all about creative license and would pay no mind to actual conference affiliations. However, assuming West Virginia plays a Big 12 schedule next year, Oklahoma would most definitely be on it and that would be a great thing.
Despite having not anywhere near the national championship-caliber season that many expected, Oklahoma was still a bowl team and figures to be a preseason Top 10 team (yet again).
Up to this point, WVU has played a mixed bag of Pac-12, ACC, and C-USA teams, but this would be a legitimate test for the Mountaineers in what is expected to be their home conference.
Oklahoma no doubt still carries the wounds from that loss and is probably licking its chops for a little redemption. Fine. Landry Jones versus Geno Smith in a showdown of top-tier quarterback talent would make for a great show.
Need a little more fuel for the fire? How about the new rumor that defensive coordinator Brent Venables is in talks with West Virginia about their coaching vacancy. Think that'll help stoke the fires? It's still a bit premature and absolutely nothing is set in stone, but should the rumors persist it would provide an interesting storyline.
This would also make for a great homecoming in Dana Holgorsen's case, as he returns to Big 12 country looking to make his first impact as a head coach. While Oklahoma lost some good offensive players including Ryan Broyles, the Sooners seem to have a habit of reloading year in and year out and will pose a serious threat to a West Virginia defense that is learning about life after Bruce Irvin, Julian Miller, Najee Goode and Keith Tandy.
Result: West Virginia 42-32. It's not a blowout by any stretch and the West Virginia defense takes its first real lumps of the season. Still, Holgorsen's offense stands firm and continues to produce no matter what the stakes.
Instead of chartering a plane, Holgorsen tells his team it's taking frontier wagons back to West Virginia. Bob Stoops goes back to his office and burns yet another visor.
Week 6: Ohio State
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OK, so no rivalry here, but I've always wondered as to why West Virginia and Ohio State haven't played eachother with more regularity.
Think about it: West Virginia and Ohio State are flagship institutions for states that share a border. West Virginia also recruits the Buckeye state heavily, usually pulling several good recruits from there each year. Last, and certainly not least, is the fact that West Virginia hasn't had a go at a Big Ten program in quite some time.
Ohio State would probably welcome a bout with West Virginia as it would add some positive buildup after a scandal plagued year that saw Jim Tressel get the proverbial axe.
This is also about the second coming of Urban Meyer. The erstwhile Florida coach is headed back to his roots, and if we know anything about Meyer it's that he is full go all the time.
Seeing as how Meyer likes to go fast and play hard, why not pit him against Dana Holgorsen's live-wire air raid? Ohio State always has talent at the skill positions and Braxton Miller may well have a huge year in 2012.
Personally, I'd love to see Miller of OSU trade blows with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. It would be a fun matchup, to say the least, and a historic first meeting for two big-time programs from the same neck of the woods.
Result: West Virginia wins 38 - 21. Ohio State is still a work in progress under Meyer but there are certainly shades of things to come on display by Ohio State. West Virginia's run game gets stymied by a notoriously tough defensive front so Geno Smith is once again called upon to deliver a big game.
Urban Meyer, in a fit of rage, goes on to beat Penn State the next week by 40. West Virginia decides to add 'The' to its name.
Week 7: Oregon
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For those of you who like offense, I give you Oregon vs. West Virginia.
Take a second, those of you who just can't seem to process this matchup. I'm having a hard time trying to make sense of it myself.
This game would be ridiculous, simply put. Oregon does on the ground what West Virginia does through the air, and if you look at the offensive totals for each team last year (Oregon averaged 46.1 points per game, West Virginia averaged 37.6), this game has the potential to be a shootout of epic proportions.
Since there's no telling what West Virginia's defense will look like next year (the newest name in the mix is Oklahoma State defensive assistant Joe DeForest) it's hard to know how effective the Mountaineers would be in stopping Chip Kelly's high-speed, spread rushing attack.
What we do know is that Oregon's defense is not nearly as dominant as its offense, giving up 24.6 points per game and that West Virginia has a habit of exploiting teams with weak secondaries. Unfortunately, this past year was not a hallmark one for Jeff Casteel's defense and it's safe to say Oregon wouldn't have any trouble finding room to run on a defensive system in its first year.
In all honesty, this game would have been perfect to open up the season in similar fashion to the LSU/Oregon matchup this past year. However, by this point in the season both teams should be well oiled and have everything clicking. Oregon may be flaunting jerseys in an as-yet-to-be-discovered shade of yellow, but expect Geno Smith and his stable of receivers to bring plenty of flash with big play after big play.
Result: West Virginia barely edges Oregon in overtime, 52-45. Both defenses run the equivalent of a full marathon by the time this one is over, but West Virginia proves to be too deep at the receiver position and is able to stretch the field at critical moments.
The capacity crowd at Autzen Stadium is treated for motion sickness immediately following the game as Tavon Austin and De'Anthony Thomas play a best-of-three tournament of "Gran Turismo" in the Oregon IMAX room.
Week 8: Louisville
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Ah, Louisville, national title contenders for 2012—wait...
At least that's what some people are saying after a better-than-expected season under Charlie Strong. The truth is that the Bobby Petrino years led to some great matchups between the Cardinals and the Mountaineers.
Remember the game in 2005? Yeah, I didn't sleep that night either.
Though the days of Brian Brohm and a Top 20 ranking are gone, Charlie Strong seems to have Louisville back on the right track thanks to star-in-the-making Teddy Heis—err, Bridgewater.
I can joke as much as I like, but the truth is the Cardinals won in Morgantown this past year, and while the loss is, in and of itself, a bitter memory, it also served as a turning point for West Virginia. It was gut-check time after that game and a team that seemed to be struggling to find some kind of identity found it the next week against Cincinnati.
For that, Louisville, we thank you.
And to show our appreciation, how about another matchup in 2012? We'll even come all the way down to Kentucky.
Dana Holgorsen's offense, when it's executed to precision, is a nearly mistake-free product. Unlike this last year's game, which was a slop-fest, Charlie Strong will have all he can handle as his defense will be missing some key upperclassmen who have moved on.
Result: Holgs gets revenge against Charlie Strong in a 42-17 win. Bridgewater has a few big plays but West Virginia's defense looks resilient and Dustin Garrison breaks the 1,000-yard mark to help in yet another 500-plus-yard performance by the Mountaineers.
That night,Teddy Bridgewater goes on to finish his dynasty on NCAA '12, winning the Heisman in the process. Before boarding the plane home, Dana Holgorsen introduces his team to his new girlfriend, Ms. Courtney Elizabeth Rawlins Schumaker Delacourte IV from nearby Lexington.
Week 9: Oklahoma State
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Before Dana Holgorsen became Morgantown's renaissance man, he was the wizard behind the curtain in Stillwater. In his one year at Oklahoma State, Dana Holgorsen transformed the Cowboy's into a high-scoring turbine that gained national attention.
The stars aligned, however, and Holgorsen is now the head man of a West Virginia program that is expected to play big time football in 2012. Mike Gundy certainly owes Dana Holgorsen a certain measure of gratitude for putting the Cowboys back on the map, but the Orange and Black have been able to manage, well, OK since Holgorsen's departure.
While Oklahoma State had what many would agree the nation's most explosive offense this past year, Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden have left considerable holes that need to be filled.
Despite Blackmon and Weeden moving on to the NFL, the Cowboys still have the blueprint to put up points in the blink of an eye. Thus, a showdown between these two teams in Morgantown would carry more hype than you or I can imagine.
It's hard to say who would win offensively, though I'd give the edge to West Virginia due to the amount of key players returning. Defensively, however, is a different story altogether.
Oklahoma State led the nation in takeaways last year but was simultaneously known for giving up a lot of points. West Virginia is knee deep in the search to find Jeff Casteel's successor and there a several names in the mix already, the newest being (gasp) Oklahoma State defensive assistant Joe DeForest.
So what can we expect from this game? Well, lots and lots and LOTS of points, for starters. Gundy and Holgorsen aren't going to go with the abridged playbook. In fact, ESPN would be wise to schedule a separate half an hour segment of SportsCenter that night just to cover the highlights of this one game.
Defensively, who knows? It looks like both teams will be shopping around in the immediate future so one can only theorize as to what kind of showing the defenses will have.
Result: West Virginia 55-42. It's a barn-burner, of course. Not a whole lot of defense to speak of but Gundy and Holgorsen have an all-out offensive wizard duel from inside Milan Puskar. Dana gets the edge over his old boss because—you guessed it—Geno Smith is just that good.
After the game, Mike Gundy reminds the media that he IS, indeed, a man. Dana Holgorsen takes his staff out for a late dinner, all of them wearing foam blue and gold cowboy hats.
Week 10: Georgia
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Who could forget the 2006 Sugar Bowl? No one, that's who.
West Virginia's first trip to a BCS game served as a coming out party for a pair of freshmen named Pat White and Steve Slaton.
With the cleanup of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina only just beginning, Atlanta served as a surrogate venue for the Big Easy. Bulldog nation cheered collectively as the Sugar Bowl essentially became a home game for an ultra-talented Georgia squad.
Sixty minutes, one fake punt and one 204-yard rushing performance later, the Mountaineers were painting downtown Atlanta blue and gold.
Georgia has been a mixed bag of sorts since then. More recently, the Bulldogs have underperformed and going into this past season, Mark Richt was sitting on one of the hottest seats in the country.
West Virginia, as well, has been up and down since that Sugar Bowl and has just now managed to climb back into the discussion of "who's who?" in the nation's elite. Still, there remains one jarring contrast between these two teams: Georgia is in the SEC, West Virginia (at the moment) is still in the Big East.
I.e., Georgia plays in a big-boy conference.
I, for one, would love to see Mark Richt make the trip up to touchdown city and let the pundits (especially you, Kirk Herbstreit) have their crack at predicting the outcome of this game. People seem to forget that in recent years West Virginia has beaten Auburn and Mississippi State and put up astounding numbers against the fabled LSU defense.
Georgia returns Aaron Murray at quarterback as well as a 3-4 defense led by Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo. They'll be tough. But West Virginia returns seven defensive starters and, not that I need to mention it, Geno Smith and the bulk of West Virginia's best offensive players.
Result: West Virginia wins 30-21. It's a low-scoring affair by West Virginia's standards, and a lot of that has to do with a stout Georgia defense. However, Georgia arrives in West Virginia a little too self-assured and the 12th man at Mountaineer field shows up big. Geno Smith fights hard for a 300-yard game and Aaron Murray puts up decent numbers, aside from a pair of interceptions.
UGA (currently an interim mascot named "Russ") kills a raccoon outside of the stadium, sources closest to the mascot claim "its the best he's ever had." Pat White and Steve Slaton are in attendance for the win and retell their Sugar Bowl victory to current Mountaineer players around a campfire later that night.
Week 11: Notre Dame
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I was torn between this and Florida State.
Florida State would've been a great matchup because of former West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden building a monstrous football legacy in Tallahassee and because Florida State is a serial offender of getting heaps and heaps of preseason hype and doing next to nothing with it.
But if there is one team that remained indifferent when it very well could have helped the Big East regain a little luster, it's Notre Dame.
And for that, it deserves a beat down.
Yes, Notre Dame is [historically] the greatest college football program in the country. Yes, the Fighting Irish are so steeped in tradition it makes the opening ceremony of the Olympics seem like a trip to 7-11. While this is all great, it still does not provide Notre Dame amnesty for refusing to join the Big East in football, signing its own TV deal and playing the same schedule year in and year out.
In short, Notre Dame takes the "holier than thou art" stance to incredible heights.
Worst of all may be the fact that Notre Dame, an independent, gets an automatic bid to a BCS game by being as low as 12th in the BCS standings.
So West Virginia should travel to South Bend and deliver a love letter signed by the rest of the Big East.
Notre Dame returns a good deal of players on defense but quarterback is a big, fat question mark. Brian Kelly is a good coach but he's still fighting to get the Irish back to dominance, the likes of which Notre Dame hasn't seen since the Lou Holtz era ended in 1996.
A blowout win in South Bend would be great for the Mountaineers and awful for Kelly, who desperately needs to improve upon an 8-5 year in which the Irish lost a dud of a bowl game to Florida State.
Result: West Virginia wins big 48-7. Brian Kelly can't find an answer on offense amidst bad quarterback play and a huge gap left in the receiving corp by Michael Floyd. West Virginia's offense soars, giving punter Corey Smith a good deal of leisure time on the sidelines.
Brian Kelly, disgusted at his team's performance, returns home that evening to watch Modern Family on his 24k gold TV. Dana Holgorsen stops off to get barbecue on his way out of South Bend and concludes that Indiana "is not a good place for pulled pork."
Week 12: Pitt
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You knew it would come down to this.
It's never been about each team's record or what could potentially be on the line depending as a result of that game.
It's the Backyard Brawl and that's all that should ever matter.
After 100-plus editions of this rivalry, conference topography is shifting and no one knows for sure when and if these two teams will get back together for the most unfriendly game of pigskin this side of the Ohio river.
Pitt will certainly be looking for redemption in 2012 after the Todd Graham fiasco and an embarrassing loss to SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl. But most of all, the Panthers will want to exact some revenge after West Virginia won a nail-biter of a final Brawl edition in Morgantown this past season.
Paul Chryst takes over in Pittsburgh with far less talk of "high-octane offenses" or "high-octane" anything, for that matter. Chryst was the engineer behind a very successful Wisconsin offense that just missed out on beating Oregon in Pasadena in the 2012 Rose Bowl.
While the tension between Graham and Holgorsen would no longer be a factor, Pitt should field a pretty formidable rushing attack next year with a healed Ray Graham and 5-star commit Rushel Shell.
Still, it's hard to know how Pitt will adjust to its first year in the ACC, and Tino Sunseri has a long way to go in improving upon a 2011-2012 season in which he threw only 10 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Flip a coin. Either it's Heinz Field or Milan Puskar, not that the 60-odd miles between the schools makes much of a difference. The important thing this that both fanbases get to relive a rivalry that was supposed to have been put on ice. One would hope that Paul Chryst has Pitt's run game powered up and looking strong by the time this game rolls around.
All West Virginia fans can ask of Pitt is that it brings its A-game—the Mountaineers will certainly bring theirs.
Result: West Virginia over (s)Pitt, 48-17. Pitt does a decent job of moving the ball on West Virginia but Chryst isn't burning Shell's redshirt, and despite some highlight-worthy plays by Graham, Tino Sunseri can't get anything working downfield.
In the weeks to come, Pittsburgh players notice Paul Chryst drinking large quantities of AriZona Iced Tea. Concern starts to mount. It is later revealed that first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin's presence on the West Virginia sideline is what caused Sunseri to break down mentally and commit three turnovers.
Where Does Next Season End?
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Dream schedule now aside, I'd like to pose a serious question: Where will West Virginia stand at the end of next season?
It's fun to think about all the teams we should be playing, wish we could play, but at some point in the next few months a schedule will be laid out in full and we will know what kind of road West Virginia must travel down.
If what the Mountaineers did to Clemson is any indication of how good this team is, I'd like to think it matters very little what conference West Virginia calls home.
If I were to dream big about a bowl game next season, well, that would be easy: national championship game against LSU.
Holgorsen's vastly improved offense against a still-excellent Les Miles defense. Tavon Austin versus Honey Badger, Round 2. That could almost make up for not being able to see Oklahoma State take on the Tigers this year in the title game.
No offense to Alabama, but who didn't want their money back after watching that game?
While a national championship is a coveted thing in Morgantown, there is a long offseason yet to see through and great deal of work to be done before anything of the sort can even be whispered around the Milan Puskar center.
Still, it's fun to dream.