MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- So much of the reputation West Virginia carries into its first season in the Big 12 has to do with what has happened before.
The Mountaineers figure to be good - media and coaches agree - particularly with so much talent back on offense. The conference's preseason media poll placed them second behind Oklahoma.
A collection of 57 college coaches, including WVU's Dana Holgorsen, ranked them No. 11 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, and behind only Oklahoma in the Big 12.
This premature positioning is about what teams have done lately, perhaps including WVU's 70-33 victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
The greatest achievement that night, beyond everything in the Rolodex of records, was overshadowing what had come before that night.
"A struggle," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
WVU went 3-1 in its final four regular-season games, losing 38-35 to Louisville before winning at Cincinnati (24-21), against Pitt (21-20) and at South Florida (30-27).
In the other nine games, the Mountaineers averaged 41.8 points and, admittedly, were a little spoiled.
"If you compare every game to Clemson, then I've struggled in every game I've ever coached," Dawson said. "But I've heard this from a lot of people and I've read it, but success slows you down as much as failure does. You start thinking, 'Man, this is getting easy.' Then the kids have a lull."
The Mountaineers were ranked No. 11 as it went to Syracuse in the seventh game of the year. WVU lost, 49-23, but rolled in the snow a week later at Rutgers, rebounding from a 31-21 halftime deficit to win 41-31.
"We started looking for home run plays too much," WVU wide receiver Stedman Bailey said. "This year, we take a look back at last year and realize, 'OK, we were trying to come up with the big plays too early or too much.' We know we need to play our game, which is to go play by play and just get positive yards."
If the Mountaineers were derailed in the Carrier Dome, the natural reaction after the Rutgers win was that things were on track after averaging 6.3 yards per play in bad conditions.
Yet WVU sputtered for stretches of the next four games, going from 6.8 yards per play against Louisville to 5.4, 5.9 and 5.4 in the next three.
The Mountaineers had two empty red-zone possessions, three turnovers and a blocked field goal returned for a score against the Cardinals.
WVU was 5-for-16 on third down against Cincinnati, allowed five sacks and had another empty red-zone possession.
Three turnovers followed against Pitt and the Panthers defense managed four more sacks and stopped WVU on 10 of 12 third downs.