WVU picked second in Big 12 preseason poll
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - What happened to West Virginia's football program Thursday was expected.
The Mountaineers were picked second in the Big 12 Conference preseason media poll and received seven of the 41 first-place votes. A day earlier, players said they thought Oklahoma would finish first, hoped to see WVU's name second and were prepared for anything below that given their status as a newcomer to the league.
Well, the Sooners were No. 1, and WVU was second and a spot above Texas. Fellow newcomer TCU was fifth.
With that now settled, it's what happens on the field that matters most to the Mountaineers.
"This is a new conference and we've got some big things to prove," said receiver Stedman Bailey. "Of course this is one of the better conferences in all college football, and we're looked at to be one of the better teams in the Big 12. I'd say we have a lot to prove."
The Sooners were picked first for the fifth time in the poll's 17 years. History suggests it will be difficult to deny Oklahoma the title. The preseason pick has been the eventual champion all but four times (2000, 2001, 2007 and 2011).
The Mountaineers play host to the Sooners Nov. 17.
"It's nice to know where you stand and how others view you, but when it comes down, we play against them," freshman receiver Jordan Thompson said. "Everyone is going to get tested."
Oklahoma has won seven Big 12 titles since the conference began playing in 1996. Each was in the past 12 years (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006-08 and 2010) and ended with a BCS appearance. The Sooners were an at-large BCS selection in 2003.
In the same time, WVU won at least a share of six Big East titles (2003-05, 2007, 2010-11) and represented the league in the BCS three times (2005, 2007, 2011). The Mountaineers beat Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl following the 2007 regular season.
However, since the Big East was forced to realign in 2004 after losing Virginia Tech and Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Boston College a year later, the Big 12 has had a better RPI in six of the eight years. It was Nos. 1 and 2 three times each and its average rank in the eight years was No. 2.3. The Big East was Nos. 1 and 2 once each with an average ranking of No. 5.7.
"I know people think we come from the Big East and that things we were able to do were sometimes a fluke, but we've been putting in a lot of hard work and we're ready for every challenge coming our way," Bailey said.
Bailey is one of the major reasons WVU has such a reputation right now. He set WVU's single-season record with 1,279 receiving yards in 2011. The pairing with first-team preseason all-Big 12 receiver Tavon Austin helped quarterback Geno Smith win the conference's preseason Big 12 player of the year award.
The Mountaineers set a number of passing and receiving records as they went 10-3 last season and punctuated everything with the record showing in their 70-33 Orange Bowl win against Clemson. Yet WVU's scoring, which was No. 13 nationally at 37.6 points per game, would have been fourth in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma (No. 10, 39.5), TCU (No. 9, 40.8) and Oklahoma State (No. 2, 48.7).
The passing offense (No. 6, 346.8 yards per game) would have also been fourth in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma (No. 5, 349.4), Baylor (No. 4, 351.5) and Oklahoma State (No. 2, 387.2). The total offense ranked No. 15 nationally with 469.5 yards per game, but would have been fifth behind Texas Tech (No. 13, 470.6), Oklahoma (No. 5, 512.3), Oklahoma State (No. 3, 549.8) and Baylor (No. 2, 587.1).
"We just need to continue to do it," Bailey said. "I don't expect anything less than 50 points per game."
Bold statement, but that's the confidence the Mountaineers have entering their second in Coach Dana Holgorsen's offense. Other teams don't have the same luxury.
Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and receiver Kendall Wright are all in the NFL. WVU has the most offensive continuity among 2011's explosive teams.
"We're getting a lot of preseason hype and I'm sure a lot of people are going to look at that and say, 'These guys haven't seen us' - and I'm speaking about Big 12 people," Bailey said. "I'm quite sure they're saying those things won't happen to them. I'm quite sure we have a target on our back."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.