By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A quick look at preseason publications and media polls and it doesn’t look good for West Virginia football in its second season in the Big 12.
At this time last season, West Virginia fans were giddy with excitement as the Mountain-eers prepared for their first season in the Big 12, with memories still fresh from a 70-33 beatdown of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
One year later and all anyone remembers is a prolific offense, a horrific defense and a 7-6 record that included a loss to Syracuse in the cold and snow of Yankee Stadium.
Will 2013 really be that bad?
True, the Mountaineers will be replacing Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and three offensive linemen, but the running attack will be stacked with Houston transfer Charles Sims, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison.
Defensively, seven starters return. That might not seem all that wonderful since that unit allowed 38.1 points a game, but with a new coordinator and valuable experience, they just about have to be better, don’t they?
Special teams will also be an issue. Austin may have been the nation’s most exciting player, but he’s now in the NFL. The kicker and punter, who was the same person in 2012, are gone too.
The Big 12 — which is really 10 teams, which is a positive since it allows every school to play each other — will come down to three teams in 2013. Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will compete for the top spot, while everyone else will be playing the spoiler role.
My guess is West Virginia will be better than many expect if the Mountaineers can find a serviceable quarterback from the three competing for the spot, if the running game is as good as advertised, and if that defense can improve (and how can it be much worst).
No need to panic. West Virginia will at least finish with a .500 mark, and won’t have its first losing record since a 3-8 mark in 2001 in the first season for Rich Rodriguez.
While there will be no BCS bowl or Big 12 title for the upcoming season, the Mountaineers will win at least six teams and possibly as many as eight.
Here is a brief look and a best early win or loss guess for each game.
Aug. 31. William & Mary (Win): West Virginia is 15-0-1 against the Tribe, although the last meeting was in 1972. William & Mary normally has a competitive FCS program, but won just two games last season. WVU is 13-1 in its last 14 season openers, winning the last nine by 29 points a game.
Sept. 7. at Oklahoma (Loss): Last year’s meeting with Sooners was like watching a video game, with the Sooners surviving 50-49. Landry Jones is gone, so now the Sooners will find out if the (Blake) Bell-dozer can throw the ball. He ran for 11 touchdowns last year, but only threw 16 passes.
Sept. 14: Georgia State (Win): Quite possibly the worst Division I program. The Panthers, which started its program in 2010, will begin its first season in the Sun Belt, but won’t be eligible for the postseason under next year. That won’t be an issue in 2013. The Panthers will play at Alabama on Oct. 5.
Sept. 21. Maryland (Win): The Mountaineers will continue to dominate this rivalry, having won the last seven after losing twice to the Terrapins in 2003. Maryland, which had to use six quarterbacks last season, will join the Big Ten next season. The Terps’ Randy Edsal is 1-8 against West Virginia.
Sept. 28. Oklahoma State (Loss): This will be fun. Holgorsen’s former team comes to Morgantown. The Cowboys will be loaded, with two QBs back that threw for 1,500 yards last year, and Josh Stewart is one of the best WRs in the nation. WVU loss in Stillwater 55-34 in 2012.
Oct. 5. at Baylor (Loss). Art Briles has turned the Bears into a winner. Bryce Petty is Baylor’s third quarterback in three years. Lache Sistrunk and Glasco Martin are the best tailback duo in the league. Three defenders return that had at least 102 tackles last year. WVU won 70-63 in 2012.
Oct. 19. Texas Tech (Win): WVU was 5-0 and fourth in the nation before beginning a six-game skid with a 35-point loss in Lubbock. Holgorsen was on the staff with the Red Raiders from 2000-07. WVU is 13-7 after a bye week since 2007, and that week off will pay off for homecoming.
Oct. 26. at Kansas State (Loss): West Virginia’s running game should be a strength, and they’ll need it against the defensive-minded Wildcats, which hammered the Mountaineers 55-14 last season. This will be homecoming for Kansas State so that could be added motivation for the ‘Eers.
Nov. 2. at Texas Christian (Loss): The Big 12 newcomers were both 7-6 last season, with the Frogs winning in overtime at Morgantown. This is a second straight road trip for the Mountaineers, while TCU will have played Oklahoma State and Texas in the two weeks prior to West Virginia.
Nov. 9. Texas (Loss): The Longhorns haven’t been themselves in recent seasons, but could be back in this one. David Ash is one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the Big 12, and the rest of the unit is equally loaded. Mountaineer Field will be rocking for this one, but not when it is over.
Nov. 16. at Kansas (Win): No problem in this one. The Jayhawks won one game last season, and gave up 59 points to the Mountaineers. Kansas is 1-21 since starting 2-0 in 2011. Charlie Weis has already caused a stir by calling his team ‘a pile of crap.’ Good luck getting that team to play for you.
Nov. 29. Iowa State (Win): These clubs will meet on Black Friday in Morgantown. This will be the last of 10 straight weeks on the gridiron for the Cyclones, who may be a mild storm by then. Ames is actually the closest of all the Big 12 schools to WVU, but it is still nearly 900 miles.
Final record: West Virginia will at least finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game — although it’s questionable if a .500 team deserves such a prize.
However, West Virginia could pull a surprise or two, perhaps in one or two of the road games at Baylor, Kansas State or Texas Christian.
Bowl game: There are currently eight bowl tie-ins for the Big 12 so West Virginia will go somewhere, even if it is in Texas for the Heart of Dallas Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Either way, the Mountaineers would play a Big 10 team, possibly against Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern or Indiana.
Call it a developmental season ahead for the Mountaineers, as West Virginia continues to recruit the talent needed to compete in the Big 12.
It will take time. Now if the avid Mountaineer fans will show a little patience, and not be caught looking ahead to Alabama in 2014.
That could be the biggest challenge of all.
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org