MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia is the only ranked team in the Big East Conference and possesses the top offense and defense in the league.
Every occurrence to build those facts established the No. 11 Mountaineers as the favorite early in conference competition to win the Big East and represent it in the Bowl Championship Series.
Those are the conditions that existed before WVU played Syracuse last season.
The Orange won, 19-14, and the season began to unravel for the Mountaineers.
WVU carries the same superlatives into tonight's 8 p.m. (ESPN telecast) against the Orange inside the Carrier Dome and hopes to keep things together moving forward.
"I couldn't honestly tell you what happened last year," senior defensive lineman Julian Miller said. "It definitely was one of those games where at the end of the day you said, 'Wow, what happened?' Now you hope not to get caught in the same situation this time."
The Mountaineers were 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big East with a meaningful victory against South Florida.
They also were ranked No. 25 before losing to Syracuse and Connecticut in succession last season. WVU led the Big East in all the major statistical categories and while it didn't lead in an offensive measure, there was Geno Smith, Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey -suggesting the Mountaineers had the Big East's best offensive talent.
In back-to-back games, WVU scored three touchdowns and 27 points and totaled seven turnovers and 13 third-down conversions in 34 opportunities.
"Obviously the offense struggled last year," senior left tackle Don Barclay said. "That was the biggest thing. At times during the games we struggled because I don't think we had an identity like we do this year."
The Mountaineers are again 5-1 and 1-0 in the Big East, and this time they opened conference play with a win against UConn.
They again lead the Big East in total defense. The offense is No. 1 in passing and total offense and Smith has excelled in his first season with Coach Dana Holgorsen and his offense.
Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone said WVU has many of the same skill players on offense and still spreads the field, but Smith is the most noticeable difference between the two seasons and systems.