What about the West Virginia Mountaineers?
When it comes to who will be competing for college football’s BCS National Championship at the end of the season, the favorites are obvious—Alabama, USC and LSU. Yet, despite what many may like you to believe, there is another football program you would be wise to keep your eyes on this season.
That’s right, the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Led by a lethal, high-powered offense masterminded by the brilliant head coach Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers are one of the popular choices to win the electric Big 12 conference this season. But the Mountaineers, as one would rightfully assume, are not just playing for a conference championship. Like every school outside the SEC conference, Holgorsen and the Mountaineers want to end the SEC’s blazing streak of six straight BCS National Championships while finally collecting their first-ever National Championship in the process.
To accomplish such a feat will not be an easy task, however.
The Mountaineers have five tough contests with teams ranked within the nation’s Top 25—including an early-season meeting with No. 15 Texas on October 13th at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and a date with Bob Stoops and the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners on November 17th.
The Mountaineers are coming off an impressive 10-3 season that was capped off by a brutal 70-33 drubbing of the Clemson Tigers in the Discover Orange Bowl. In five games, Holgorsen’s offense racked up over 40 points, all of which ended in victory.
Of their losses, the Mountaineers suffered embarrassing upsets at the hands of the Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals, as well as a 47-21 whooping by the BCS runner-up LSU Tigers.
This season, though, the 11th-ranked Mountaineers enter determined to show the nation they merit respect. They’ve aligned themselves with college football’s second toughest conference—the aforementioned Big 12—and return a collection of starters on both sides of the ball.
They boast a substantially underrated defensive unit, which rolls out a newly-implemented 3-4 scheme stocked full of talent, including junior safety Darwin Cook who finished second on the team with 85 tackles. The Mountaineers ranked 35th in the nation in passing defense—something that will be a very valuable trait if they are able to slow down the dynamic passing attacks that have overtaken the Big 12 conference.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback Geno Smith prepares for another season leading Holgorsen’s near-unstoppable Air Raid offense against a group of Big 12 defenses that are not exactly known for keeping such offenses out of the end zone.
Combined with senior Tavon Austin and junior Stedman Bailey—who accounted for 173 receptions and 2,465 yards receiving for West Virginia—Smith is in line for another fantastic season that could catapult the Mountaineers into National Title discussions. If they can stay undefeated while putting on their weekly touchdown show—Smith threw for 31 of them last season—it will be difficult for voters to deny a team that brings in huge ratings with their exciting style of play.
Holgorsen is a disciple of offensive wiz Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech head coach who had his fair share of success while coaching in the Big 12—namely an 84-43 record with 10 consecutive bowl appearances and a South division title.
Holgorsen, Smith and the Mountaineers can have similar success in their inaugural Big 12 season so long as they play smart football. Big 12 defenses may surrender a lot of points, but they also create a lot of turnover opportunities.
Last season, four of the Big 12’s ten members ranked within the FBS’ top 25 teams in interceptions. More offensive opportunities generally means more points for the offense, and that’s a dangerous reality when considering four of West Virginia’s Big 12 opponents this season scored 39.5 points or more per game.
Fortunately, Geno Smith is as efficient as they come, throwing just seven interceptions in each of the past two seasons.
Ultimately, it will likely take an undefeated season to woo voters.
One loss, especially a late-season disappointment similar to fellow Big 12 member Oklahoma State’s shocking upset at the hands of Iowa State last season, could sideswipe their entire campaign. Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense will be put to the test with such an impressive group of opponents on the schedule, and it will prove whether his offensive scheme—like Mike Leach’s—is good enough to win 10 games or good enough to win every game.
Luckily, the Mountaineers have the players on both sides of the football who have been around the program and know what they are trying to do this season.
And maybe, come January 7th, it will be the West Virginia Mountaineers raising that coveted crystal football in the air—much to the surprise of many and the pleasure of everyone who isn’t an SEC fan.