It’s possible West Virginia football faithful don’t quite have full appreciation for the Big 12 football conference and what the league and its members represent. We watched Dana Holgorsen lead his WVU team to 10 touchdowns against No.14 Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, scoring well into the early Miami morning.
Trouble is, the fans’ expectations have spiraled up sky-high, up there somewhere with the Met Life blimp.
Both the USA Today coaches’ poll and the Associated Press writers and media poll have West Virginia in the 11th slot, which is second only to Oklahoma among the Big 12’s ranked teams. That gives the Mountaineers an at-large bid in the Bowl Championship Series. As the Jeep spare-tire covers say, Life is Good.
In a previous article, I predicted that before WVU takes a well-deserved week off after four Big 12 games, the Mountaineers will go 2-2 in Big 12 Conference play, losing to Texas in Austin and dropping a heartbreaker to Kansas State in Morgantown.
West Virginia fans are not known for patience. A league mark of 2-2 will not be met favorably.
I can see it now. Glazed-eyed WVU fans will think back to the Orange Bowl game. Having grown accustomed to such displays of dominance, Mountaineers everywhere will wonder aloud, “What has gone wrong this 2012 season?”
The call-in boards of the state’s sports talk shows will light up like the space shuttle launch as many express displeasure, especially after the loss to Kansas State. “What’s going to happen?” they’ll all ask.
Then, the guy who saw Nick Saban in Morgantown in 2007 will come on the radio, then he’ll say “and he wasn’t there Christmas shopping,” as he always says, and the talk show will mercifully come to a close.
West Virginians, with apparitions of the number 70 (LXX, square root of 4,900, Sam Huff’s New York Giants jersey number, the approximate age we baby boomers will not be able to retire until, if at all) not escaping our rambling thoughts, interrupting our sleep patterns as we beg for rest.
What have we gotten ourselves into?
I wonder what Syracuse is doing this weekend?
West Virginia’s Big 12 Conference season divides neatly into two acts. Act I is comprised of the four league games, games against Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas State, played before the Mountaineers’ second week off.
During Act II, after that bye week, WVU hosts TCU, travels to Oklahoma State, returns to take on Oklahoma at Mountaineer Field, goes to Iowa State and completes the inaugural Big 12 season with Kansas at home.
To make the schedule even more appealing to obsessive-compulsives like me, the games from Act I are played in September and October, and the games in Act II are played in November and December.
Finally, here’s a fact from top football guru Phil Steele, for whatever it means to you: West Virginia football is 23-7 in regular season games played in November and December since the 2005 season. It could mean nothing because those games were Big East games, albeit by my count, a decent 7-2 versus ranked opponents in those two months. It could mean something in that it is evident the Mountaineers year after year get on a roll late as the bowl bids are being aligned.
If you consider the Dana Holgorsen team only and look only at the final three games of 2011, another Phil Steele statistic says a lot: WVU, when it all was on the line every weekend and it absolutely had to, rallied to 3-0 at No. 23 Cincinnati, hosting Pittsburgh and playing the finale at South Florida, winning by a total of seven points in those three games. And, with help from Connecticut, there’s your Orange Bowl bid.
How will West Virginia finish in its November and December in 2012?
Texas Christian in Morgantown
TCU always brings a defense wherever it goes. The Horned Frogs led the Football Bowl Subdivision in defense; that’s number one out of 120, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Head coach Gary Patterson and defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas have established that powerful precedent.
The offense is good, with quarterback Casey Pachall running the show, but this game is the ninth straight for TCU. A rested Mountaineer offensive line will lead the Air Raid to a win against a good team.
Oklahoma State in Stillwater
The Cowboys have eight returning to a defense that last season, always did enough to help out a point machine offense, and sometimes just won the game themselves. Mike Gundy brings this experience back to a team that felt they should have had a foot on that BCS Championship stage and are still steaming over being relegated to the “consolation game," the Fiesta Bowl in which the Pokes took Stanford down in overtime.
However, Holgorsen has his Big 12 sea legs back and will prevail.
Oklahoma in Morgantown
Finally, West Virginia fans get the vanquished Sooners at Mountaineer Field, even though 1982 and 2007 are completely irrelevant. WVU is playing fresh and oiled, bringing Oklahoma in for its seventh consecutive game and the fourth on the road.
Bob Stoops will in all likelihood ride the bus with his ultra-talented, undefeated team into Morgantown in the BCS championship hunt, but I have to go back to that well-placed week off for West Virginia. The Air Raid will score last in this shoot-out for one of the biggest regular season victories in school history.
Iowa State at Ames
Two words that will always haunt the annals of West Virginia football: Paul Rhoads. It’s been five years since coordinator Rhoads led one of the biggest defensive efforts in modern college football history, that of 4-7 Pittsburgh completely shutting down the No. 2-ranked Rich Rodriguez and his 41-point-a-game quarterback Pat White to an anemic nine points.
Why is this meaningful? Rhoads, with an 18-20 career mark leading the Cyclones, has still shown the penchant to pull off an upset or two. After three huge victories, the Mountaineers will be ripe as a pinot noir grape. I say win, but it’ll be scary.
Kansas in Morgantown
It doesn’t take very many words to convince me that Kansas is rolling into town with Charlie Weis and bringing with it a trap game if I ever saw one. Weis has enough returning starters to work with his transfers and junior college stars from across the nation to take this team to the win column by the end of the season.
The defense wasn’t that bad in 2011, with a turnover margin of minus five. It’ll be senior day for a couple of dozen Mountaineers, so I’m sure Holgorsen will preserve the victory, no matter how difficult Weis will make that.