Could it be the defense that carries the Mountaineers?
It seems improbable . . . but the 2015 football season’s outcome in Morgantown could be carried by the Mountaineer defense.
Either that or hired-for-his-offense coach Dana Holgorsen will be relying heavily on his running backs to bear the brunt of his offense.
After seeing receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford dazzle enough opponents’ defenses to earn West Virginia a 7-5 pre-bowl game record, where will even a reasonable facsimile of what those two accomplished in 2014 come from?
Skyler Howard played in several Big 12 games after starting quarterback Clint Trickett went out with concussions and finally decided to leave competitive football behind. Now Howard is West Virginia’s quarterback. Some say he is a better runner than thrower.
If West Virginia’s defense proves to be effective, then it’s possible that Howard will do as much running as Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and other lesser touted backs.
This isn’t the same defense that has been shredded by Texas Christian and Baylor in the past wild-scoring games between those two and the Mountaineers.
But is the defense that much better than the Holgorsen versions of the past?
In Holgorsen’s tenure, West Virginia has never beaten either Kansas State or Oklahoma . . . and neither of those two has drawn much favoritism from speculators leading into the 2015 season.
West Virginia has consistently lacked a pass rush. The teams usually taking a overhead route to the end zone have beaten them, no matter how many points the Mountaineers managed against them.
After three non-conference games begin the season in Morgantown (Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland), West Virginia’s first road game is at Oklahoma. The Sooners are breathless to atone for last year’s 8-5 record which was concluded with a massive bowl loss to Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers.
Five losses in Norman is akin to comparing the dragging attitude to that of the Dust Bowl Era when people left the state in droves, just barely beating the wind-driven top soil that was chased away by drought and Mother Nature in the 1930’s.
Five losses in Norman will cause the faithful to question Coach Bob Stoops and his brother, the defensive coordinator.
Baylor and Texas Christian are being touted as Top 10 teams in that national ratings. They can both score . . . and have against West Virginia.
The celebrating is still being heard in places like Waco, Manhattan (Kansas) and Stillwater after the Texas Longhorns were saddled with a 6-7 overall record last season. Can Texas recover? Iowa State was 2-9 and Kansas was equally awful last year.
Coach Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats are almost always overlooked, but nearly always do enough winning to make life miserable for Big 12 teams. Texas Tech has given up its share of points to any and all teams it seeks to outrace on the fast-changing scoreboards of the Big 12.
Oklahoma State hasn’t been able to fully impress benefactor T. Boone Pickens, but the Cowboys can often score in bunches and probably will again this season.
With the coming of August arousing the instincts of football addicts, speculation and guesswork take their place before the first games are played.
Three straight home games are in front of the Mountaineers’ nine conference games.
Liberty is taken for granted. But Georgia Southern is not a surefire win. The Eagles received mention in one of the many pre-season polls. If the Mountaineers flounder against Maryland, what will they do against Texas Christian and Baylor?
Names like Chestnut, Rumph, Kwiatkoski, and Worley will be known in Morgantown.
But will those defensive Mountaineers be known at any of the outposts in the Big 12?