West Virginia hosts its first conference game as a Big 12 member this Saturday against Baylor. The Mountaineers opened as 10-point favorites but the line has moved up to 11.5. Las Vegas also has the under at 81.5. That's a shootout, folks.
This is West Virginia's homecoming game. For those who don't understand the significance, I'll spell it out for you: This is an expected win by West Virginia. Schedulers realize that alumni (and their wallets) will be attending the game, so they had better be sated with a win.
So, is this game a foregone conclusion?
We have five reasons why this game may be closer than you think.
Nothing spells disaster more than when a team is over-confident. This is West Virginia's first game as a Big 12 member and playing an average Big 12 team, if there is such a thing. Its probably a higher level of competition than most of the Big East teams the Mountaineers played last year.
The Baylor Bears scored 45 points on Oklahoma last year. They also scored 66 on Texas Tech and 48 on Texas. That was also when Heisman-winner Robert Griffin III was the Bears' quarterback, but still, this team has a lot of skilled players back. They will score points on West Virginia.
West Virginia is coming off of a 31-21 win over Maryland, the same Maryland whose offense was held to seven points by William & Mary's defense.
Let's face it, neither of these teams has much of a pass defense, and both have a potent passing attack.
West Virginia's pass defense is ranked No. 106 and is allowing an average of 276.7 passing yards per game. Baylor's pass defense (No. 116) is even worse, allowing an average of 315 passing yards a game. This game could approach four hours before it's over.
But here's something to think about in a shoot out: If you're hanging on to the lead in the fourth quarter and need to run some time off the clock, how much value is there in having a decent running game? Even more pressing is how important is the running game when you're pinned inside your own five-yard line?
Baylor can run the ball. They have the a Top 40 rushing attack that is averaging 207 yards per game. Running the ball chews up the clock and keeps the other team's offense off the field. It also keeps opposing defenses honest.
Last week, Baylor played Louisiana-Monroe on September 21, a Friday night. Does an extra day off make that much of a difference? Maybe not for the players, but it does for the coaches.
While West Virginia was playing Maryland last Saturday afternoon, Bears head coach Art Briles was ostensibly breaking down game film.
Preparation is the key to winning any game, and Briles and his staff will have had more time to get their game plans in order.
West Virginia has something in common with Southern California. Seemingly every year both of these teams drop games that they were expected to win.
In 2007, West Virginia was ranked No. 5 before losing to No. 18 South Florida, 21-13. The Mountaineers clawed their way back to No. 2 before inexplicably losing 13-9 to Pittsburgh and throwing a BCS Championship game invite into a dumpster fire.
In 2008, West Virginia was ranked No. 8 before losing 17-14 to unranked Colorado. The team had two years (2009 and 2010) of no-surprises before resorting back to losing games it shoudn't have lost.
Last year, the Mountaineers reached a No. 11 ranking, but then got spanked by unranked Syracuse, 49-23. Two weeks later, they lost to Louisville, another team that was not ranked.
West Virginia is currently ranked No. 9 in the AP Top 25 and No. 7 in the USAToday Poll.
Texas mascot Bevo
You hate to see the inevitable "trap game" dropped in the conversation but let's look at some of the intangibles here.
- West Virginia is favored by double digits over Baylor.
- It's homecoming.
- West Virginia did not look like a BCS Championship contender against Maryland.
- West Virginia's defense is very suspect against the pass.
- Next week the Mountaineers travel to Texas to play the Longhorns. But I'm sure they're not looking ahead, right?