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.