It’s not like we didn’t know who West Virginia would play when it finally joined the Big 12.
It became official Tuesday and the conference released the league schedule. Yet, there was something that left me speechless for awhile when I saw WVU’s schedule.
Hey road trips to Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. And how about that 2012 schedule of Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas? That’s four Big 12 home games against teams that finished in the Top 25 last season. Now do you see why AD Oliver Luck was so adamant about joining the Big 12 right away? OK, maybe it had something to do about money also.
Luck told the Charleston Gazette, “I know our fans will be looking forward to having the Big 12 schools visit Milan Puskar Stadium this fall. This is a tremendous opportunity for our department, and the challenges ahead are certainly exciting.”
TCU fans have to be equally excited about the Horned Frogs new opponents and a more challenging schedule.
The Big 12 probably did WVU a favor by scheduling five home games since the Mountaineers will work to recoup some of the $20 million Big East exit fee. It was a hefty price to pay, but the money will come and the new schedule sure beats games with Rutgers, South Florida and Connecticut.
I won’t pick on old rivals like Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and newer rivals like Cincinnati and Louisville. I will actually miss those games. But the tradeoff is worth it.
So now that WVU will be in the Big 12 in 2012, how do the Mountaineers stack up against their new opponents?
Let’s get the non-conference games out of the way. Any West Virginia fan will tell you they never believe any game is a guaranteed win…not even the Sept. 15 date with James Madison at FedEx Field. But the Mountaineers should enter Big 12 play 3-0 and ranked in the top 15 if not the top 10. That would mean wins over Marshall, who has never defeated WVU, JMU and Maryland.
The Mountaineers will return a potent offense, which was on full display in the Discover Orange Bowl. So Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey should be able to put up some points with the best in the Big 12.
The offensive line and running game still have some question marks, but the defense is changing from Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 defense and will run something more traditional. There is some talent on that side of the ball, but there will be a learning curve.
The Mountaineers are only on the road in back-to-back weeks once when Dana Holgorsen’s team travels to Texas (Oct. 6) and then to Texas Tech (Oct. 13).
There’s no way to take any game for granted in the Big 12, but you have to believe West Virginia will handle Tech, Iowa State and Kansas. So that’s six victories.
So that leaves six Big 12 games that will make or break WVU’s season.
It will start with that conference opener with Baylor on Sept. 29. Milan Puskar Stadium is going to be downright crazy for that league opener. It will be way more intense when Oklahoma comes to Touchdown City, but the Bears will find out what it’s like to come to Morgantown.
The Bears lost a lot of talent, including Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, so the Mountaineers should win this game.
I also like WVU’s chances at Oklahoma State. I’m sure the Cowboys will reload, but the offense will take a hit with the loss of Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Levy Adcock.
So that leaves games with Texas, Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma as the difference between a Big 12 title and going 8-4 or 9-3. It’s a bit pretentious to think WVU will win the Big 12 in its first season. The Mountaineers have more to learn about their new opponents then they have to do about WVU.
But it’s clear West Virginia is in a better place, and you could say the same about the Big 12.
Can we just start the 2012 season now?