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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 12: West Virginia

West Virginia’s 49 points at halftime were the most in bowl history. Not Orange Bowl history: bowl history, as in every single bowl ever played. Likewise, West Virginia’s 70 points at the end of regulation was a bowl record – ever. Were the Mountaineers ready for the Big 12 after dousing Clemson in the Orange Bowl? The Mountaineers wanted to start the next day, if possible, and if that B.C.S. showing holds true, should fit the pass-happy conference like a glove. The real Orange Bowl winner — fitting in this age of conference expansion — might be the Big 12 itself, which saw West Virginia, its newest addition, cap its final season in the Big East in the grandest of grand style. “Our guys felt like they weren’t getting much credit, and they wanted to make a statement in this game,” Dana Holgorsen said after the game. “The victory caps a great season and helps us lay the groundwork for the future.” Future? The future is now. Just ask Clemson, which tasted West Virginia at its best, and just ask the rest of the Big 12, which knew when the clock hit zero that another title contender was about to join its ranks.

Conference
Big 12

Location
Morgantown, W.Va.

Nickname
Mountaineers

Returning starters
15 (8 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 21

2011 record
(10-3, 5-2)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 17

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    Marshall
  • Sept. 15
    vs. J. Madison (in Landover, Md.)
  • Sept. 22
    Maryland
  • Sept. 29
    Baylor
  • Oct. 6
    at Texas
  • Oct. 13
    at Texas Tech
  • Oct. 20
    Kansas St.
  • Nov. 3
    T.C.U.
  • Nov. 10
    at Oklahoma St.
  • Nov. 17
    Oklahoma
  • Nov. 23
    at Iowa St.
  • Dec. 1
    Kansas

Last year’s prediction

What we see in Morgantown is an unlikely — and ultimately mutually beneficial — confluence of events: an offensive coordinator looking for the perfect spot; a program hungry for more; an offense mired in the muck; and a team talented enough to take firm control of a weak B.C.S. conference and run with it. That’s what we’re seeing at West Virginia, which has all the pieces, and now the coaching, to run through the Big East and earn a B.C.S. berth. How good can the Mountaineers be? If [Holgorsen] can hit the ground running, and if the team takes to the changes, I think West Virginia can win 10 games in the regular season. I think nine wins is a safer bet, but this team has a high ceiling.

2011 recap

In a nutshell A dream season, in my opinion, in every fashion but one: West Virginia really shouldn’t have lost a game against Big East competition. But it was clear that the offense wasn’t on the same page nearly throughout the season, jaw-dropping numbers or no; to me, that West Virginia needed a quarter or two to get rolling every week pointed to the idea that the offense as a whole was going through some growing pains. It’s not surprising that when given time to prepare – over bowl preparations in advance of Clemson – the Mountaineers were absolutely dominating. But from week to week, West Virginia struggled at times putting together an imposing effort against the rest of the Big East. Only one of its league wins, against Connecticut, came by more than 10 points; the remaining five wins came by a combined 17 points, in fact. It’ll be a whole new ballgame in 2012. West Virginia’s going to be much better, but so will the competition.

High point Clemson. It’s a win that won’t soon be forgotten in West Virginia. Up next is a two-way tie between Cincinnati and South Florida; the former gave W.V.U. the head-to-head tiebreaker in the Big East, while the latter clinched a B.C.S. berth.

Low point I’ll never understand how Syracuse beat the Mountaineers by 26 points. It was on the road, but still: Syracuse’s home-field advantage isn’t imposing, to put it lightly. The Mountaineers would also lose to Louisville, a near-fatal loss, and fell victim to L.S.U.’s particular brand of football over the final 16 minutes of the pair’s meeting in September.

Tidbit Holgorsen is one of seven first-year head coaches to reach a B.C.S. bowl, joining David Shaw, Chip Kelly, Chris Petersen, Charlie Weis, Ralph Friedgen and Larry Coker. He’s one of three to win a B.C.S. bowl in his first season; the others are Petersen, who led Boise State past Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and Coker, who led Miami (Fla.) to the 2001 national championship by beating Nebraska in 2002 Rose Bowl.

Tidbit (Orange Bowl edition) The Mountaineers set or tied 18 school bowl records in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson. The list of team records – and take a deep breath: most points, most points in a half, most points in a quarter, most touchdowns scored, most yards of total offense, most plays on offense and most first downs. The individual records – take a deeper breath: most yards of total offense, most touchdowns responsible for, most touchdown passes, most receptions, most receiving touchdowns, most points scored, most points responsible for, most touchdowns scored, longest touchdown play, most extra points attempted and most extra points made.

Tidbit (Big 12 edition) West Virginia is 9-4 all-time against those teams that currently make up the Big 12. Only one of those games was played after 1987, however – the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, when the Mountaineers swamped Oklahoma. In all, the Mountaineers are 1-1 against Kansas State, 2-2 against Oklahoma, 2-1 against Oklahoma State and 1-0 against Kansas, Texas, T.C.U. and Texas Tech.

Former players in the N.F.L.

20 OG Don Barclay (Green Bay), OT Selvish Capers (New York Giants), LB Najee Goode (Tampa Bay), CB Brandon Hogan (Carolina), LB Bruce Irvin (Seattle), LB Mortty Ivy (Pittsburgh), RB Will Johnson (Pittsburgh), CB Adam Jones (Cincinnati), CB Ellis Lankster (New York Jets), P Pat McAfee (Indianapolis), FB Corey McIntyre (Buffalo), S Ryan Mundy (Pittsburgh), NT Chris Neild (Washington), WR Darius Reynaud (Tennessee), S Robert Sands (Cincinnati), FB Owen Schmitt (Oakland), RB Steve Slaton (Miami), CB Keith Tandy (Tampa Bay), LB J.T. Thomas (Chicago), TE Tyler Urban (New England).

Arbitrary top five list

Best third basemen in M.L.B. history 
1. Brooks Robinson.
2. Mike Schmidt.
3. George Brett.
4. Chipper Jones.
5. Eddie Mathews.

Coaching

Dana Holgorsen (Iowa Wesleyan ’93), 10-3 after his first season. He hit all the high marks in his debut, though Holgorsen and the Mountaineers did suffer two avoidable losses during conference play. But he matched the level of excitement that surrounded his arrival, which was positively off the charts. Prior to last June, it was thought that Holgorsen would spend the 2011 season as Bill Stewart’s head-coach-in-waiting before ascending to the top spot in 2012; that month’s developments led W.V.U. to make a rapid change, promoting Holgorsen a year ahead of schedule. The only question remaining — and it was a big one — was whether Holgorsen was ready for this endeavor: running a program. He answered that question. Whether he can run an offense, on the other hand, was a question put to bed long ago. Quite simply, there isn’t a better offensive mind currently coaching on the college level. His development has roots in his playing days as a wide receiver at Iowa Wesleyan, then coached by Hal Mumme. He joined Mumme at Valdosta State in 1994, coaching the quarterbacks and wide receivers for two seasons alongside then-offensive coordinator Mike Leach. You want to learn everything you need to know about the Air Raid? Then learn at the source: Mumme and Leach. His connection with the latter earned Holgorsen his first break, a promotion from coaching the receivers at tiny Wingate University to doing the same under Leach at Texas Tech. He tutored the inside receivers throughout his tenure in Lubbock, 2000-7, and added co-offensive coordinator duties from 2005-7. Holgorsen jumped at the opportunity to go it alone at Houston in 2008, joining Kevin Sumlin as part of his debut staff with the Cougars. He did wonderfully, as expected, helping U.H. lead the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring in 2009 before moving on to Oklahoma State. A year later, Holgorsen was the head coach at a major program with yearly B.C.S. bowl aspirations.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Rich Rodriguez’s return to the sidelines led to a staffing shakeup at West Virginia, as many expected. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Casteel, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and cornerbacks coach David Lockwood left Morgantown to reenlist with Rodriguez at Arizona. That left W.V.U. with only one member of last season’s defensive staff: Steve Dunlap, last year’s safeties coach, will now work with the outside linebackers. Casteel’s post will be filled by committee, with former Oklahoma State coordinator Joe DeForest and former Pittsburgh coordinator Keith Patterson sharing the load on the defensive side of the ball. DeForest will also work with the safeties, replacing Dunlap. As the new defensive line coach, Holgorsen added Erik Slaughter, who spent the last three years in the same capacity at Stephen F. Austin – and the ties between Holgorsen and Slaughter go back to Stephenville High School in Texas, where Slaughter worked under Art Briles, a former colleague of Holgorsen’s at Texas Tech.

There are also some changes on offense. Former wide receivers coach Daron Roberts will now work the cornerbacks. Last year’s inside receivers coach, Shannon Dawson, will coach the entire receiver corps and serve as the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator – though Holgorsen’s going to have his say on offense, of course. But the rest is status quo: Bill Bedenbaugh remains as line coach, Robert Gillespie as running backs coach and Jake Spavital as quarterbacks coach.

Players to watch

To be truly effective, West Virginia’s running game needs a shiftier back to go with a bigger, more bruising inside runner. The Mountaineers have a pair of bigger backs to chose from, starting with senior Shawne Alston (416 yards and 12 scores), who filled that role a season ago. The second is senior Ryan Clarke: West Virginia’s short-yardage back in 2010, the Mountaineers’ fullback in 2011, Clarke is in the mix for a vastly increased workload after not landing a single carry last fall. This duo gives West Virginia some production on third down, for one, but you can imagine a backfield that starts both seniors – giving West Virginia a 460-pound backfield, one that will give many a Big 12 front seven second thoughts.

It’s a nice idea, but the Mountaineers need speed. So the staff hopes to get a full season out of sophomore Dustin Garrison (742 yards), who is steadily working his way back into game form after undergoing offseason knee surgery. While Garrison needs to give West Virginia far more consistent production – more than a third of last season’s rushing yardage came in one game, against Bowling Green – he does give this offense some sense of flash to go with the between-the-tackles running style Alston and Clarke will bring to the table. Until Garrison returns, the Mountaineers can either start sophomore Andrew Buie (172 yards), rotate in one of several unproven backs, led by true freshman Torry Clayton, or go big – with Alston and Clarke barreling over defenders as a one-two starting punch.

It’s easy to become preoccupied with the development of West Virginia’s quarterback and receiver corps, but don’t sleep on this offensive line: as is the case under center and out wide, this line is entering its second season in Holgorsen’s system – so you’re going to see improvement. Another reason to expect improvement: West Virginia returns senior Josh Jenkins, a two-time all-Big East pick who missed last fall due to injury. He’ll step right back into his old role at left guard, helping give this offense an absolutely outstanding trio along the interior; joining Jenkins is senior center Joe Madsen and senior right guard Jeff Braun.

It doesn’t get any better than that in the Big 12, nor does it get much better than that anywhere, Big 12 or otherwise. This group will make noise on the ground, for starters, but having three seniors in the middle should help W.V.U. offset some warning signs at tackle, where junior Pat Eger returns on the strong side but a new starter moves into the mix on the blind side. The new starter, sophomore Quinton Spain, spent last season as the backup to Braun at right guard – Spain played in every game, making one start, and is very much a linemen to watch develop over the next two or three years. He has the size to move outside, but Spain needs to hit the ground running before Big 12 play begins in late September.

Please, says West Virginia, double up on Tavon Austin (101 receptions for 1,186 yards). Pretty please, with a little cherry on top. Holgorsen’s offensive philosophy can be summed in one tidy little phrase: pick your poison. Doubling Austin will leave Stedman Bailey (72 for 1,279 and 12 scores) open; you won’t like Bailey when he’s open. Devoting attention to both Austin and Bailey, while nearly impossible, will leave options like Ivan McCartney (49 for 585), J.D. Woods, K.J. Myers and a handful of very promising freshmen open underneath – and now you’re in trouble. There’s really nothing quite like watching West Virginia highlight one receiver, forcing a defense to adjust, then go away from that target and towards the newest weak spot; this is fun to watch, if painful at times, and few offenses are more adept at utilizing mismatches and advantages in the passing game.

Bailey and Austin are all-conference picks. McCartney will have a harder time earning conference recognition in the Big 12, but there are few more gifted third options in the country. Austin and Woods are the starters inside – for now, at least. Eventually, one of the freshmen will push Woods into a secondary role. Bailey and McCartney line up on the outside, giving W.V.U. a pair of bigger receivers with the ability to catch the ball in space and gain significant yardage after the catch. It’s a wonderful receiver corps: best in the Big 12, top five nationally, good enough to make your secondary look terrible on any given Saturday.

Finally, the point man: Geno Smith. He’s a senior now, believe it or not, and it seems hard to believe. He took to the new offense like a fish to water, throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores while hitting on 65.8 percent of his attempts. You saw this sort of accuracy in the program’s most traditional offense prior to Holgorsen’s arrival, but Smith’s ability to continue hitting his receivers in stride allowed the Mountaineers to taste such immediate success in Holgorsen’s first season. In addition, that Smith was so productive in his first season in the new offense bodes well for his final season with the Mountaineers – and that’s quite the understatement.

Smith was a first-team all-Big East pick as a sophomore and a junior. I think he’ll repeat that feat as part of the Big 12: Smith is in the best system, has the most weapons and a great familiarity with this scheme, all of which helps give the senior a slight leg up over Collin Klein and Landry Jones – Smith will win more games than Klein and have better numbers than Jones, in my opinion. Can he do much more statistically? Yeah, but nothing quite like the jump Smith made between his sophomore and junior seasons. He’s going to be extremely comfortable running this entire system; he’ll be throwing more late in the games; Smith will play several teams with defensive allergies. That points to the idea that he could throw for, say, 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns. Those are Heisman numbers, by the way. Smith’s going to have a huge year. This offense is going to have a huge year.

Changes are afoot on defense, as West Virginia’s coaching moves might indicate. No one difference is bigger than the one right before your eyes: Come September, the Mountaineers will play defense out of a 3-4 formation, not the 3-3-5 base set popularized under Rich Rodriguez and run to such great impact over the vast majority of Casteel’s tenure with the program. So how might things change for West Virginia? For one, the move isn’t overly drastic; it’s a big move, one that will shake things up for this defense, but boiled down, all that’s really changing is that the fifth defensive back – that third safety – is now less of a safety, more of a linebacker. In West Virginia’s world, that defender will line up in the box but remain very much a hybrid.

So will things change? Yes, absolutely. And it’s only safe, from where I’m standing, to expect West Virginia to have a few sour moments defensively while DeForest and Patterson slide this group into a new formation. But the growing pains will have as much to do with the coaching moves themselves as the actual philosophy; remember how important Casteel was not only to Rodriguez but also Bill Stewart and Holgorsen, so it’s not easy for any program, even one like West Virginia, to find the same sort of production while breaking in a pair of new coordinators.

West Virginia addressed its new-look linebacker corps by moving last year’s strong safety, Terence Garvin (72 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions), down to the second level. He’ll step right into a role at the star position, the hybrid linebacker-safety role, giving West Virginia a quick, athletic, nose-for-the-football starter on the outside – he’ll do a nice job. Perhaps the biggest change for this year’s group is that the 3-4 defense demands two inside linebackers, not merely the one used in Casteel’s system. As of now, it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where junior Doug Rigg (30 tackles) and sophomore Jared Barber (23 tackles) don’t grab the starting roles on the inside.

The linebackers: the star, the hybrid safety-linebacker; the two inside linebackers, one the weak side and the other on the strong side; and the buck position, the hybrid end-outside linebacker – West Virginia’s buck linebacker will be much like Florida’s buck end-linebacker, though the Mountaineers’ version won’t be this defense’s make-or-break edge rusher. But you’d like to see more from sophomore Jewone Snow (42 tackles) on passing downs, where he did little a season ago: Snow made several starts in the middle as a rookie, rarely getting a chance to showcase his abilities as an edge rusher. Snow will get that chance in this new system.

From top to bottom, the story at linebacker isn’t about the starting quartet, though it’s a good group – it’s more about the fact that the Mountaineers can and will go seven or eight deep, shuffling linebackers into certain packages throughout a series or drive. Outside linebackers will move up or down, in the case of Garvin or Snow; inside linebackers will move outside; ends will stand up; outside linebackers will move down. It’s an intriguing group, one with the athleticism to excel in what the new coordinators call a “simpler” defensive system. Keep an eye on a few underclassmen: Shaq Petteway, Nick Kwiatowski, Isaiah Bruce and Wes Tonkery.

The big loss up front is that of end Bruce Irvin, who blazed his way from being a little-known situational rusher into the first round of this April’s N.F.L. Draft. While he leaves a huge hole on third down, West Virginia’s tweaked defensive alignment will help this defense offset Irvin’s departure; the front seven as a whole should bring more pressure, though no one defender can match Irvin’s ability to change a game’s complexion single-handedly – and no one knows this more than West Virginia. The Mountaineers can rely on two veteran linemen to keep the front three rolling, if at a slightly slower pace: junior Will Clarke (32 tackles, 5.0 for loss) returns at end, senior Jorge Wright (38 tackles) at nose tackle. Wright’s your genuine article in the middle, meaning that he does his job, occupying blockers and garnering little attention outside of Morgantown – he’s a solid nose tackle, in other words. Clarke is a bit too big to be a fearsome pass rusher, but he’s had a great offseason; while not someone who will light up opposing quarterbacks, I do think that Clarke is poised for a breakthrough season.

It’s a nice starting duo for the new staff to build around. Junior Tyler Anderson will close out the starting lineup as the Mountaineers’ smaller, more prototypical end. These three, and Clarke and Wright in particular, will help West Virginia break in two or three younger, more unproven down linemen. One, true freshman Imarjaye Albury, is running behind Wright, ahead of former JUCO transfer Shaq Rowell, at nose tackle. Redshirt freshman Kyle Rose may get a look at end, especially if Clarke is moved inside in certain situations.

Overall – and including the secondary, as you’ll see below – the defense has some question marks to address. In this case, the Mountaineers have enough offensive firepower to simply outscore the majority of opponents in and out of Big 12 play. But to be great, to win the Big 12 and reach the B.C.S., the Mountaineers must sew up the holes that exist along each level, with no issue bigger than the new faces and style in the secondary. West Virginia can ameliorate any lingering concerns by getting consistent pressure on the quarterback; this is as close to a cure-all as can be found in college football. But if the Mountaineers are simply unable to replace Irvin and Julian Miller, it’s going to take a team-wide effort on defense – and it’s going to take this group getting on the same page with DeForest and Patterson from day one.

Based merely off of the return game, there are few teams more dangerous than West Virginia – and you’d expect nothing less, what with Austin handling both punt and kick returns. But the Mountaineers were dodgy in coverage last fall, inconsistent on field goals, worse than mediocre on punts and close to useless on kickoffs. West Virginia’s one of the few teams in the country with a legitimate chance at winning the national championship; for one reason why the Mountaineers can’t run the table, look at their inability to translate speed, athleticism and explosiveness into a more well-rounded effort on special teams.

Position battle(s) to watch

Secondary The pressure is on the secondary – and not only because of the Mountaineers’ lack of experience, which is a concern, but also because of the offensive mentality of the program’s new conference; the Big 12 won’t merely throw out more talent on offense but also throw the ball more, period, and this will test the Mountaineers’ preparedness along the back seven. So this is where the rubber meets the road: West Virginia must land similarly effective play against the pass this fall, when it breaks in several new starters, or fail to make any major noise in the Big 12. While the defensive changes – personnel and philosophy – are noteworthy in themselves, no one factor on defense will define West Virginia’s season more than the play of the back four.

Back four, remember, and not back five. First, what’s gone: Keith Tandy at cornerback, Eain Smith at free safety and the aforementioned Garvin, who moves down to linebacker. If you count Garvin, the Mountaineers lost 87 career starts in the secondary – 40 by Tandy alone. So it’s time to rebuild, in a way, though the cupboard isn’t entirely bare. After splitting time opposite of Tandy last fall, senior Pat Miller (66 tackles, 2 interceptions) and junior Brodrick Jenkins (27 tackles, 2 interceptions) will start at cornerback. The secondary’s one full-time returning starter, junior Darwin Cook (85 tackles, 2 interceptions) will start at the defense’s equivalent of strong safety, replacing Garvin – basically filling the same role as a year ago.

You can look at free safety in one of two ways. On one hand, the presumptive starter, Karl Joseph, is a true freshman. On the other, Joseph has played well enough on the practice field to move ahead of returning contributors like junior Travis Bell and sophomore Ishmael Banks and another true freshman, K.J. Dillon, who has been one of the great stories coming out of fall camp. At this point, you can only trust in the new staff’s ability to find four solid, capable of productive starters in the secondary. But with the way West Virginia can move the football, you’d hate to see this season fall apart because of an inability to slow down what teams like Oklahoma, T.C.U., Oklahoma State and others can do through the air.

Game(s) to watch

W.V.U. will preface Big 12 play with home dates against Marshall and Maryland and a strange neutral-site affair with James Madison at FedEx Field – purely for recruiting purposes, I promise you. The Mountaineers’ Big 12 debut begins with Baylor, one of the league’s three good-but-not-great teams. The conference slate begins in earnest a week later, when West Virginia gets a taste of Big 12 hospitality against Texas in Austin; that’s followed by another road date in Lubbock before back-to-back home games against T.C.U. and Kansas State. For the Mountaineers, the Big 12 title comes down to how they fare on the road against the Longhorns and at home against Oklahoma. But hopes for an at-large B.C.S. bid involve the entire schedule – not to mention at least a split against U.T. and O.U. – so as in the Big East, the Mountaineers can’t afford to let up against teams like Kansas and Iowa State.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell It’s too easy to gush over all that West Virginia can achieve offensively – it’s so easy, in fact, that I’m going to spend the next paragraph doing exactly that. I’m crazy for Holgorsen as an offensive mind; he’s not merely a Saturday-afternoon coach, meaning someone who will create a game plan for one specific team, but also a big-picture innovator, one who can make huge, industry-wide moves when given the time, resources and opportunity, such as he’s been given at West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ toys will rock the Big 12 right from the start: Smith at quarterback, Bailey and Smith at receiver, the unheralded line – these are title-winning pieces, right on down the line, and it’s this offense that gives West Virginia one serious shot at winning a second straight conference title, with a Big 12 crown joining last season’s Big East title.

I have three teams ahead of the pack in the Big 12, though I can see any one of six teams end up taking home the conference title; simply put, there is no deeper league in the nation. Why I think West Virginia could win 11 games and the conference title is due to this offense, which stands out even in a league dominated by top-notch offensive attacks. Why I don’t think that the Mountaineers will sneak past Texas and Oklahoma is because of the question marks on defense, though this won’t come into play against a good portion of the teams on this schedule; in many games, the Mountaineers will simply score and score until time runs out.

The defense is a worry. The personnel is a concern; the coaching moves are a concern; the philosophical alternations are a concern. As highly as I think of Holgorsen, Smith and this offense – and I think the world of the entire group – I have a hard time getting behind West Virginia as anything more than a contender for an at-large B.C.S. bid when there are issues still unresolved on the defensive side of the ball. Address those, win the Big 12. Win the Big 12, play for a national title, perhaps. For now, based on the information at hand – I still need to actually see this defense play a down – West Virginia is a 10-win team that will end the year within one game of the Big 12 champion. Win the Big 12? Not yet. But when it comes to 2012, Holgorsen and this offense are more than worth the price of admission.

Dream season Every game’s a win, from the opener through Kansas, and no team has more fun earning a berth in the national title game. West Virginia scores less than 40 points only once, against Texas – a 39-14 win.

Nightmare season The offense is a little better, the defense a little worse and the schedule much more difficult. While West Virginia goes 8-4, 5-4 in the Big 12, you can’t help but feel that this team could have done more.

In case you were wondering

Where do West Virginia fans congregate? Message board chatter can be found at WVSports.comBlue Gold News and The Mountaineer Nation. More coverage can be found at We Must Ignite This CouchThe Smoking Musket and the Web site of the Charleston Daily Mail.

West Virginia’s all-name nominee CB Brandon Napoleon.

Word Count

Through 113 teams 464,315.

Up Next

Who is No. 11? While certainly a very, very good school, tomorrow’s university is not quite on the same plane academically with an Ivy League institution. Nor can this school match the Ivies on the gridiron, if its historical record against the Ivy League is any indication.

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Comments

  1. Matt says:

    I’m guessing Michigan State based on the article “Is Michigan St. Really Better Than Yale” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/magazine/is-michigan-state-really-better-than-yale.html?_r=2&hpw. Can’t find the record for MSU vs. the Ivy League though.

  2. Matt says:

    Of the schools left, Wisconsin and USC are probably the best, academically. Given USC is thought to be a top 3 team by most pundits this year, I’ll guess the Badgers for #11

  3. BobJ says:

    This clue is a tough one. Three of the remaining schools have losing records against Ivy League schools, by my count: Michigan State (0-2), Texas (0-1), and my choice for #11, Wisconsin (0-3).

    Still-to-come Georgia is 6-6, and Oregon is 1-1.

  4. Patrick says:

    Matt, USC has never played an Ivy League school. Probably one of the few left that hasn’t.

  5. philip says:

    all our hopes and fears articulated in one place. nice job. and thanks for getting us within two weeks of kickoff.

  6. I'll Guess Texas says:

    The original eight Public Ivies as they were listed by Richard Moll in his 1985 book “Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s best public undergraduate colleges and universities”:

    - College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia)
    - Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
    - University of California (campuses as of 1985)
    - University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
    - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    - University of Texas at Austin
    - University of Vermont (Burlington)
    - University of Virginia (Charlottesville)

  7. Misthaufen says:

    As a biased Dodger fan, I would put Ron Cey on that list….

    As to WVa, this is not just the Orange Bowl team. This I’d the team that got blown out by a weak Syracuse team and which struggled in a pretty awful Big East….. Sure, WVa got a pretty favorable schedule when compared to fellow new comer TCU, but why do I get a feeling that WVa will lose at least 3 difference road games, as well as 1 or two home games

  8. George says:

    WVU had better learn to play defense if they want to do well in the Big 12 … oh, I forgot … Big 12 teams idea of playing defense is to hold the other team to a field goal instead of a touchdown every time they get the ball. In that case, WVU should do just fine.

  9. Burnt Orange says:

    Rarely disagree with Paul on the baseball nuggets, but on the third basemen, prefer Wade Boggs over Chipper. Chipper, of course, has much better power, but Boggs was a better fielder, better average, better WAR, better OBA. and kind of overlooked when it comes to players who hit for average. Same career average as Rod Carew but better on base percentage. Boggs was Ty Cobb like till he hit age 30, then plays another 12 years with his skills and stats dimishing each year. .349,.361,.325,.368,.357,.363, and .366 first seven seasons. Plus over 100 walks many of those years.

  10. Matt Rob says:

    One thing that people forget when talking about the 2011 WVU team is that they had a head coach who was not appointed to that position until a few months before the season started. And who had no say in working with his defensive coordinator.

    A 10-3 season is a pretty good first year with a few months to prepare and a squad of guys who were running a very different offense the year before.

    First year at program:

    Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: 7-5
    Urban Meyer, Florida: 9-3
    Jim Tressel, Ohio State: 7-5
    Chip Kelly, Oregon: 10-3
    Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: 10-4
    Nick Sabanbot, Alabama: 7-6
    Mack Brown, Texas: 9-3

  11. Matt says:

    First two posts are different Matts, by the way. Just so you all don’t think “Matt” is schizophrenic, haha

  12. 'Catatonic Tim says:

    Wiscy (3-5 vs. Ivies) next?

  13. Matt Rob says:

    I am also pumped that WVU still has a chance at a really great bowl even if they finish 2, 3, or 4 in the Big 12.

    Would just as soon not see them in the Pinstripe Bowl against a Big East team, though.

  14. george says:

    Yes, WVU’s new defense has yet to be tested. However, the new defensive coaching is well proven. I don’t look for WVU to have the best defense this season, but I do expect it them to finish in the Top 10 of all college defenses, for it is not without talent or skilled players.

    Why would a writer include Ivan McCartney in any write-up of WVU’s offense, if he has been paying any attention at all to the WVU offense, for McCartney isn’t listed on the Depth Chart. This causes me to wonder about the knowledge of the writer.

  15. Burnt Orange says:

    George – the writer provides you extremely detailed previews of 123 teams. He is as far as I can tell, a one man operation. Okay, there is occasionally a slip up on a roster spot, transfer or something but I challenge you to find another site which provides you this sort of analysis and detail for every team in the country.

  16. BobJ says:

    . . . and for free.

  17. Misthaufen says:

    Burnt and BobJ have it exactly. Paul does a superb job out of love of the game, with a good writing style as well. Does he get a few things wrong here and there? Sure, but I have learned a whole lot of things about a lot of schools I really don’t care about, but I’ve enjoyed every minute.

  18. Steve says:

    Thanks Paul, the worst part about having a good team is waiting all summer for the best preview in the land. I’m a proud member of WMITC and invite you to check out my countdown, on 10 to go now but if you want a history lesson on 100+ past and present WVU football players check it out. http://www.wemustignitethiscouch.com/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?start=360&topic_id=22685&viewmode=flat&order=ASC&type=&mode=0

  19. JasonL says:

    I’m a huge WVU fan, and I disagree with “george.” The author is right to question WVU’s defense. It’s unproven, it’s a new system and the unit lost some key players. Even last year’s unit under Casteel wasn’t very good in my book. How many points did they give up to Syracuse? I think the author nails it — if the defense works, then WVU is set for a monster season. If not, well…

    And McCartney is listed 2nd on the depth chart at outside receiver–largely to motivate him to bust it. If he ever works hard (maybe he finally is), he’ll be the unquestioned starter at that spot and could have a big year. But talent alone doesn’t equal success.

  20. JasonL says:

    I stand corrected on McCartney. Just saw that the latest version omits him totally from the depth chart. Apologies to “george.”

  21. Portmanteur says:

    Obviously MIT is next.

  22. Lonnie says:

    You hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t agree with you more on your assessments and predictions. The Mountaineer defense must preform above expectations for this team to win the conference. The offense is probably going to put up enough points that an average defense should protect in almost every game. The question is are they at least going to be average?

  23. DotBone89 says:

    Craig Nettles?

  24. George says:

    JasonL, I don’t know what Depth Chart you are looking at. McCarney had been listed on the Depth Chart, but the one that came out on Aug 21, 2012, McCartney isn’t on it. The guy wrote this acknowledged this.

    Also, I agree that WVU struggled last season and in recent years due to a lack of depth on Defense, on the Offensive Line, and on Special Teams. With this I totally agree. I’ll also acknowledge the fact that while there is more depth at each position than WVU has in recent years, the question remains is it enough depth to carry them through the season. However, I’m an optimist and my glass is always half full and never half empty. When I look at the success each of the Defensive Coaches have had in just one year of every where they have been, I see success. OSU led the nation in take-aways after 1 season there and the year before OSU couldn’t buy a take-away. The other members of the Defensive Coaching Staff have had similar experience and success. Plus WVU is returning several Defensive Players who played in games last year, some of which had a pretty good 2011 season. Yes, WVU lost some talent on the Defense, but it is also returning some talented skilled players, and they have had one of the toughest off-seasons they have ever experienced, and practiced against one the Nations Top Offense’s. Plus, the first 4 games will be used much like scrimage games to see who is ready to play the rest of the season. It will be these 4-games that Coach and his staff will use to make any needed adjustments before heading into Texas. 2011 is gone along with Casteel and his staff. 2012 is a new season with new coaches and a new Defensive Schema, along with some pretty good depth at every position and each player will only get better as the season progresses, so I have good reason to be optimistic.

  25. George says:

    WVU’s Achilles Heel is Geno Smith. The reason is the GAP: Childress is much closer to Millard’s skills, athleticism, game knowledge than Millard is to Geno in these areas. To be honest, I don’t see Millard being the Starting QB in 2013, for I see Childress winning this for he is bigger, taller, a better runner, and he doesn’t play like a “Gunslinger”. Childress is more poised in the pocket. This season Childress will learn the offense, next season he’ll compete & win the Starting Position. If Geno goes down, WVU will be hurting big time.

  26. SMEER says:

    Great write-up – very well done for someone outside the program. Dare I say the most comprehensive thing I’v read from anyone inside or outside the program/conference. Just a “couple” of add-ins meant in no way to disparage what’s been written . . .

    1. Someone already mentioned McCartney who has barely been mentioned in any local writeups or by the coaches. I’ve taken to following his tweets just to make sure he’s still on the team. And in the “slot” left vacant is former slot receiver JD Wood. I do believe as another posted – the move is meant to motivate Ivan.

    2. So many frosh are listed in the two deep that depth has to also be a concern. The O line has marginal depth – about seven deep with shifts to accomodate the backups. Linebacker has many interchangeable parts as does WR though Steadman and Tavon are irreplaceable. Likewise Geno s so good that Paul Millard, a very good QB in his own right, is a huge drop-off. Losing Geno IS the nightmare of every Mountaineer fan. And we have no depth in the secondary which has to be scary entering the B12. You hit the RB scenario – depth but very different styles which plays havoc with O lines who have to sync blocking to the speed and strength of very different backs.

    3. The KO nightmare can end this year with the ball moving up to the 35. Most Mountaineer fans would be happy to let the opposition spot the ball on the 25 rather than risk a return. Lack of depth shows up often on special teams so plan on seeing a ton of balls being drilled into the end zone. And I wouldn’t be so hard on Bitancurt. Let’s remember that DeForest was THE special teams coach at OSU and coached up some winners while there. Senior Bitancurt will flourish with a little love. He’s kicked some game winners – ice water in his veins.

    4. Finally the 3-3-5 is significantly different from the 3-4 by the STACK. It is more than taking 1 away from 5 to make 3-4-4. Those three down lineman played “stacked” over O lineman – the nose tackle right over the center – which meant the linebackers and significantly different assignments. In fact it usually took defensive players two or three years to pick it up because it was so different than the 3-4. Josh Francis – case in point – a highly regarded juco transfer could barely sniff the field last year because he had no ioea what he was doing. The new D staff with the introduction of the 3-4 are allowing athletes to be back on the field without having to be defensive geniuses. It also sounds like the D staff is willing to risk big plays in order to try for a few more turnovers. High risk-high reward like OSU who cruised to 11-1 in the B12 based on a phenomenal turnover margin. (Anything to get the ball back to the O – to give them rhythm.) Of course it can also be a curse if the Tos don’t come in any one game. This is significantly different than the bend but don’t break 3-3-5 which kept Geno and company benched and allowed teams like Cuse to play keep away and beat us. The new philosophy seems to be give the ball back to the O as many times as possible so they can build rhythm. This is DH’s kind of D.

    Gonna be some shootouts. The teams that can pound the ball and establish a running game have to scare us. Ball control is the best D against Geno and company.

  27. eric says:

    I do not think people remembered last season very well for WVU! The defense carried our team down the stretch to win the BE title. If you remembered correctly, our offense turned the ball over at the end of drives or our special team gave up huge plays that cost us field position. Yes the offense racked up tons od yardage and stats, but had a heck of a time putting up 30 points. Remember USF, PITT, CINCY, and most of all LSU! The LSU game, we put up over 500 yrs (or near that) but that was due to LSU running back TD on kickoffs, offensive TO that let them pound the ball into the endzone from 20 yards out. I think we only remember the stats the offense put up but completely forget how sluggish and frustrated it was to watch our offense operate. Yes it was a well oiled machine for the last 2 quarters, but heck is was a nightmare the first two quarters. Werent we losing to a 1AA team at half last year. Didnt our defense sack a Pitt QB like 10 times? Wasn’t our defense top 10 in the country two years ago? I think it was the cincy game or Marshall game where our defense. Only alled 3 points while our offense/ST was accountable for 20 pts…Also, wvu offense was extremely awful from the time when rich rod left for mich and very pathetic and impossible to get recruits to play for wvu while the WVU defense carried us…wow, if anything WVU have a strong defense the past 6 yrs and now it is out biggest concern!

  28. SMEER says:

    Hey George – you beat me to the punch while I was writing my encyclopedia.

  29. scanfield says:

    I think you’ve got unreasonably high expectations if you think WVU is going to have a Top 10 defense. West Virginia’s DEF S&P+ for the past 5 years: 8, 50, 23, 3, 52 (~27) (and against the pass, 3, 41, 28, 15, 60 (~29)). It seems unlikely to me that they’re going to improve that much with a coaching change vs. the problems of coming into a new, might more offensively focused league.

    I don’t think they need a Top 10 offense to win the Big 12, though, they just need to get some turnovers and score a lot (see Okie State, 2011).

  30. eric says:

    Never said they were going to ever be close to a top 10 defense this year. Just that there defense has been the strong suit of this team for the past 5 years while the offense has been very inconsistent the past 5 years (including last year). I think our defense will have growing pains but not as much as it was when going to the stack. If anyone understand holgo, it is that operates with the idea to be successful correlates with simplicity. The simpler you make the system, the less task one player needs to learn to perform ones role and the more robust everything operates…its a system that allows young talented players get on the field faster and show case there talent rather than being subjected to some system that requires alot of knowledge and experience to gain playing time…all in all, this defense should be top35 in the country before seasons end…

  31. The Penguin says:

    @Misthaufen

    Why, Thank you.

    Also, I enjoyed my time in Chicago tremendously.

  32. Ron Santo says:

    Et tu, Paul?

  33. George says:

    Scanfield, Now let me get this right: You want WVU Defense, the one you have no faith in to get turn-overs? and you honestly believe WVU doesn’t need a Top 10 Offense to win games.

    So what you are saying is that all WVU needs to win games in this season is a medicore Defense that can get turn-overs and a sub quality offense. Maybe Geno and Group should stop practicing or go play go play for other teams, for thats all WVU needs to have a shot at a Conference Title. WVU could save a lot of money if all it wanted was a sub standard football program that continued to have up and down seasons. So my question to you if what you say is true then why the Conference move? Why spend all this money on new coaches? Why not stay in the Big E and continue to teams as its had over the past 10-years?

  34. George says:

    Eric, I’m onboard with you and your write-up about WVU’s Defense. It will have growing pains and it will be better than last year, and it will continue to improve with each game.

    Good write-up!

  35. scanfield says:

    “I don’t think they need a Top 10 offense to win the Big 12, though, they just need to get some turnovers and score a lot (see Okie State, 2011).” – me, above.

    I meant defense, not offense in this sentence.

  36. SMEER says:

    two things that will make this year’s O act nothing like last year’s . . .

    1. another year in Holg’s system with experience everywhere including RB. loved Garrison, but how many times did he lose patience and run up the back of a blocker/not wait for a hole to develop? Alston being healthy is huge.

    2. the O line actually has some depth – not completely two deep but much, much better than last year with the reintroduction of Jenkins.

    the O bowl was more of an indicator as this article well articulated – the time in bowl prep made things click. DH admitted that he had never seen a team make that much improvement in December.

    The D is the big question mark. OSU did not have a top 35 D yet blew everyone away in TO margin. TO’s are caused but also fickle because the ball bounces funny (just cause you knock it loose doesn’t mean you recover it). Flying to the ball helps – OSU mentality is coming to Motown. But sometimes you just have to be lucky. Here’s hoping the D get’s lucky with TOs.

  37. eric says:

    The reason alston was successful at RB last year was because he was a running back who can break tackles. In holgo offense, he wants a home run hitter at RB, some one who cuts once and get 8 yards. Last year the line did not graps the blocking scheme, and thus the speedy backs were getting crushed at the line. When alston got inserted the line was still struggling on there blocking assignment but alston broke those tackles and was able to get to the second level…

    I think alston will be our best bet at RB this year as a runner while having the speedy backs in to catch passes…we need alston to block as the other backs were crap at that…we need alston in as much for breaking tackles and most important, blocking for our Saviour GENO!

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