Can West Virginia fool critics this season?
It’s Dana Holgorsen’s fifth season and his overall record is 28-23, including a high-scoring 45-37 loss to Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl to close out the 2014 season with a 7-6 record.
Those numbers and the loss of offensive standouts Kevin White and Mario Alford have made the Mountaineers an afterthought in this season’s Big 12 Conference considerations.
Texas Christian was 12-1 overall after beating Ole Miss, 42-3, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. The Baylor Bears were 11-2 overall after stumbling and falling in a 42-41 loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma completed a disappointing season with an 8-5 record and a humbling 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Even though coach Bill Snyder once again did better than expected at Kansas State, the Wildcats lost a 40-35 decision to UCLA in the Alamo Bowl. Kansas State was 9-4 overall.
Oklahoma State beat Washington in the Cactus Bowl to get its record to 7-6. But Texas was hammered by Arkansas, 31-7, in the Texas Bowl and finished with a 6-7 record.
Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas all had losing records last year and were the three conference teams not qualifying for a bowl game.
Few people outside of Jane Lew, War or Pickens feel this year’s version of the Mountaineers will make the Horned Frogs, Bears or Cowboys believe they are a championship caliber team.
Holgorsen has an 11-16 overall record in his 27 conference games that West Virginia has played in its first three years in the Big 12. His teams have never beaten Oklahoma or Kansas State.
Whereas Holgorsen was hired by departed athletic director Oliver Luck to bring offensive wizardry to Morgantown, this year’s team appears to be more qualified on defense.
Nick Kwiatkoski (linebacker), defensive backs Karl Joseph, KJ Dillon and Terrell Chestnut are already drawing notice as candidates for several postseason awards. Shaq Petteway is another linebacker who has experience.
West Virginia’s most effective player may be placekicker Josh Lambert.
Skyler Howard was the starting quarterback coming out of spring practice. He’s quick-footed and could be as much a part of West Virginia’s running game as Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and redshirt freshman Donte Thomas-Williams.
Shell rushed for 788 yards last season and Smallwood had 722 yards rushing.
There don’t seem to be any feared wide receivers on this team, but Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts are the two leaders at the position.
If West Virginia is going to captivate the college football world with its rushing offense then Tyler Orlosky will have to lead the other offensive linemen in helping to control defenses.
The Mountaineers were a miserable minus 15 in turnover margin last year. That was near the bottom of the pile of the 128 teams playing for the “big schools” national championship.
All three of West Virginia’s non-conference games are in Morgantown. Watch out for Georgia Southern, the season’s first game. The Eagles from Statesboro recently defeated Florida in Gainesville. Liberty and Maryland are the other two non-conference teams on the schedule.
The athletic director who hired Holgorsen is gone. The university president who was in office when Holgorsen was hired is gone.
Should Georgia Southern be muscular enough to defeat the Mountaineers in the season opener, rampant speculation would flow freely throughout every social media outlet known to man about Holgorsen’s status.
The Big 12 schedule is a yearly challenge.
This season won’t be any different in that regard.