Back in the summer I told a few friends that I’d be pleased if West Virginia went 8-4 in its first season in the Big 12.
They scoffed and told me how anything less than 10-2 would be a huge disappointment. It appears we were both wrong (and they are clearly bumming big time).
At 5-4, WVU still has a chance to get to 8-4, but it’s not likely considering the Mountaineers still have a home game with No. 12 Oklahoma this Saturday, followed by a road game with Iowa State and a season finale with Kansas in Morgantown.
At this point, getting to 6-6 is about the best you can predict.
So what happened to the Mountaineers, who opened 5-0 and looked like they had an offense that could run the table?
It starts with their mental make up. When the national media was anointing the Mountaineers as the Big 12 favorite, WVU began believing its own hype a little too much. When Dana Holgorsen’s team arrived in Lubbock, Texas, fresh off a huge win over Texas, the Mountaineers didn’t take Texas Tech serious enough.
It also became all too clear that West Virginia’s defense had not improved enough to be competitive enough in a much stronger Big 12. I’m not even sure if the defense is good enough to win the Big East.
This in turn put a lot of pressure on the offense to score on every possession. That simply became too much and Geno Smith began to press, and without a serious running attack, defenses were able to make adjustments that are making his life frustrating.
You can’t take Holgorsen off the hook either. It’s his second season as a head coach and he’s familiar with the Big 12, but the conference’s other coaches have outclassed him. Fans like to talk about how they enjoy watching him get emotional on the sidelines, but the elite coaches don’t show this much emotion. I still believe Holgorsen will mature as a coach, but he’s got a lot of work to do.
I’m one of the few who think WVU’s defense will get turned around next season. The Mountaineers are playing a lot of young players, who will be better prepared for the competition and talent in the Big 12.
And that’s the real crux of West Virginia’s issues in 2012. Since the Mountaineers closed the season with that 70-33 crushing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl there was a huge assumption made that WVU was ready for the week-in and week-out challenge of the Big 12.
Except for the SEC, the Big 12 has been and is the strongest football conference in the nation. That’s a far cry from playing Connecticut, Rutgers and South Florida. I give WVU credit for scheduling Wisconsin, Auburn and LSU in recent years, but the Mountaineers didn’t win too many of those games.
The Big East may have been a BCS Conference, but it was nothing like what the Mountaineers have faced in their first year in the Big 12. Back when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College were still part of the Big East, winning the conference was a respectable accomplishment.
Holgorsen and his staff will need to work their tails off on the recruiting trail the next couple of years to build the depth and athleticism that the Mountaineers will need to be relevant in the Big 12.
Right now, though, WVU is the Syracuse of the Big 12.