Mike Casazza: WVU's fall from top was far and quick
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If not for a player the school hasn't even confirmed or introduced as a member of the team yet, West Virginia would have found itself in the company of only lowly Kansas on Wednesday, the day the Big 12 released the preseason all-conference teams.
The league's 10 coaches saw to it that no members of the Mountaineers or Jayhawks made 13-player lists for offense and defense. WVU went from being the talk of the league at this time last summer to standing alongside a team that has lost 21 straight Big 12 games.
The Mountaineers were nevertheless fortunate to have Charles Sims named the preseason newcomer of the year. Sims graduated from the University of Houston in May and transferred to WVU earlier this month. He was named to the Maxwell Award watch list last week, which nominates him for the national player of the year award.
Kansas State, the reigning conference champion with a roster that was filled with seniors, led the way with five selections, which was as many as Oklahoma State (three) and Oklahoma (two) combined. Texas Tech, which has a new coach, and TCU, which like WVU is in its second season in the league, had four players on the list, which was as many as Texas.
There is no dominant team, no program with an overwhelming collection of all-conference assets, no coach who is free of worries about the quarterback position. This is parity in play and half of the teams, and maybe more, could rally to win the league title. We start to shape our opinions today when the media reveals its preseason poll. Here's how it should look:
The Longhorns have the league's least worrisome quarterback situation, though David Ash has much to learn and prove with regard to consistency. They also have an argument for the best set of running backs, best receiver, best defensive lineman, best linebacker and best safety. That's not a bad place to start as Texas tries to reclaim the top spot it hasn't had since 2009.
The offense is better than people want to admit. Quarterback Casey Pachall, who was suspended for the final nine games last season, is 16-1 as a starter and was named to the first team Wednesday. He has proven and promising playmakers at running back and receiver, but the defense leads the way, as the case usually is with Coach Gary Patterson, with cornerback Jason Verrett and end Devonte Fields.
3. Oklahoma State
Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh both can handle the offense, running back Jeremy Smith has more than 1,400 rushing yards while playing behind Kendall Hunter and Joseph Randle, tight end Blake Jackson is a matchup nightmare inside and receiver Josh Stewart has league MVP potential. The defense has to be better than it was in 2012, but there's talent and experience there.
Quarterback Blake Bell has more rushing touchdowns (24) than pass attempts (20) in his career, but Oklahoma should be very good on the ground with Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Trey Millard working behind a group including center Gabe Ikard and other mammoths. The defense had trouble up front late last season and the Sooners lost players there to graduation and discipline.
This should be the country's most terrifying offense. Lache Seastrunk was the obvious choice for the Big 12 preseason player of the year and he has a full season to work his magic with arguably the league's best lineman, Cyril Richardson. Quarterback Bryce Petty has all sorts of toys to play with in his first season starting, including receiver Tevin Reese, tight end Jordan Najvar and running back Glasco Martin.
6. Kansas State
True, the Wildcats had the most all-league selections, but two were the punt and kick returners. It's impossible to ignore the quality and quantity lost to graduation - 11 starters, more than all but three other teams in the country. Coach Bill Snyder is a wizard, but he might have to be this season, especially when it comes to picking a running or a throwing quarterback to follow.
7. Texas Tech
The Air Raid offense can click in the first season and that's what Coach Kliff Kingsbury hopes to pull off with Michael Brewer at quarterback, Eric Ward at wide receiver, Jace Amaro at inside receiver and a pretty good set of running backs. The defense returns seven starters and will attack more and see good numbers from defensive end Kerry Hyder.
8. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have holes on offense, but feel like the biggest part is identifying replacements and letting the players and the plays handle the rest. The defense will need its junior college players to make it to campus to fix a big problem with the pass rush, and while the secondary has basically all the same players, they're better for being through the Big 12 once before.
This could be the Big 12's most surprising offense. BYU transfer Jake Heaps is a massive upgrade at quarterback and the receivers will improve with transfers who are now eligible. The Jayhawks also have three good running backs, including Tony Pierson, who they want to use in a Tavon Austin role. Kansas was more competitive in 2012 than the 1-11 record suggests and should win some close games in 2013.
10. Iowa State
The bottom three or four teams could rotate, but the Cyclones might be debuting, or at worst tinkering with, a new Pistol offense. There are good tight ends and running backs, but not many explosive players, which are a necessity in the Big 12. Linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, the identities of the defense, and by extension the team, the past three years are both gone.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.