An Orange Bowl victory over Clemson that can best be described as annihilation and a Big East title on their way out, 2011 was a memorable season in Morgantown. It became an expensive one when West Virginia paid $20 million to leave the conference and head to the Big 12. Still, boosters and administrators enjoyed sticking it to former Big East commissioner John Marinatto and Dana Holgorsen‘s promotion proved successful. Bill Stewart’s firing muddied the addition of Oklahoma State‘s offensive coordinator but having Geno Smith under center certainly alleviates pressure. There were struggles in losing to Syracuse and Louisville and the wild success of scoring 70 points in the Orange Bowl. At the conclusion, the Mountaineers found a better conference home, where they’ll instill a program presence in a talent-rich state and perhaps compete immediately for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Generally thought of as a fringe or inclusive top ten team, West Virginia debuts in the Big 12 with actual goals. Those go beyond setting random things on fire and condescendingly wondering whether lite beer drinkers have lady parts. Geno Smith‘s second year in Dana Holgorsen’s system makes him a Heisman candidate and weapons like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey out wide mean late evenings for opposing defensive coordinators. October 6th is a pivotal occasion for the Mountaineers. Playing in Austin with the chance to announce legitimate Big 12 candidacy against Texas provides opportunity. Is the offense lethal enough to master an elite defense? Is the defense worse with Jeff Casteel in Arizona? Oklahoma travels to Morgantown in late November and the possibility exists that the conference could be up for grabs. Of all the teams that realigned over the last two summers, none possessed the type of talent to contend so quickly in their new home. West Virginia’s 2012 intrigues more than TCU‘s and Texas A&M‘s and Missouri‘s. Can they capitalize?
Currently ranked 39th nationally and 6th in the Big 12 by 247 Sports, West Virginia’s 2013 recruiting class is still heavy on east coast products. De’Asian Richardson, a 4-star defensive end and Tyler Tezeno, a 3-star guard highlight the 14 commits with just one from Texas, three from Florida and an influx from Pennsylvania. Expect the Mountaineers to replace Missouri and Nebraska as the out-of-state Big 12 destination for Lone Star state prospects. With the attraction of Holgorsen’s offense, it shouldn’t be too difficult finding skill position players or spread-loving quarterbacks. Now that West Virginia is settled, keeping their rising star head coach becomes the chief issue. In leaving the Big East, it erases another potential detractor to Holgorsen’s career ladder. He’s in a power conference earning in excess of $2 million. He seems to maintain a solid relationship with athletic director Oliver Luck and a top-tier job in the SEC or Big 12 or a spot like Florida State are probably the only luring options. Those temptations are much scarier to the Mountaineer brass than a blackjack habit.