IT'S TIME. That time.
It's time to ask a few questions. Time to provide answers.
The data is in on West Virginia University's football team, yet there are questions. Will WVU's jump in league competition be offset by the excitement around the program? Can coach Dana Holgorsen, in Year Two as the main man, handle the enormous expectations surrounding his team? Also, can a talented Mountaineer team avoid pitfalls?
Sure, WVU routed Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but there were also losses last season to Syracuse and Louisville. The year prior the Mountaineers lost to the Orange and Connecticut. One can keep going back. They fell to UConn and Cincinnati in 2009. To East Carolina and Colorado the year before. In 2007, well, let's skip that regular-season-ending loss.
This, though, sets up as a very special season. There's the excitement surrounding the jump to the Big 12. There's not one but two Heisman Trophy candidates on the team. The offense should be explosive. The schedule sets up as well as can be expected in the Big 12.
Last season, my final regular season prediction was 10-2 with a Big East title and BCS bowl berth. Not bad. The team finished 9-3 with the title and berth and finished 10-3.
This season? Let's take a look:
Sept. 1, Marshall at WVU - MU's offense will provide an early test to West Virginia's new 3-4 defense. Rakeem Cato, Aaron Dobson, Tron Martinez and Travon Van can provide fireworks. Defensively, though, there are plenty of MU questions. Doc Holliday has the Thundering Herd on the right track, but is a year away. WVU 42-21
Sept. 15, WVU vs. James Madison (at FedEx Field, Landover, Md.) - If you want a nice segue, here's one: Mickey Matthews. The former Herd assistant coach is now piloting a JMU team ranked as high as second in the preseason FCS polls. The coach has 16 returning starters from last season's playoff team and is touting dual-threat quarterback Justin Thorpe as "the best player in the country." Maybe. But WVU's Geno Smith and Tavon Austin will have something to say about that. WVU 48-20
Sept. 22, Maryland at WVU - This should be a relatively easy game for the Mountaineers. The Terrapins have been picked to finish last in the ACC's Atlantic Division, and that selection was made before quarterback C.J. Brown went down with a season-ending injury. WVU won last season's matchup on the strength of three interceptions, but the Mountaineers won just 37-31 after assuming a 34-10 lead. This year, don't look for WVU to let off the gas. WVU 52-10
Sept. 29, Baylor at WVU - No, RG3 won't be in Touchdown City, but expect the Bears to feel at home in the mountains and scratch and claw. They have a senior quarterback in Nick Florence and some fine receivers, including 6-foot-3 standout Terrance Williams, so points will be scored. But Baylor will be the stereotypical Big 12 team with a fine offense and little defense. WVU will be fired up in its first home Big 12 game and take advantage of that Bears defense. WVU 40-28
Oct. 6, WVU at Texas - Here's the Big 12 welcome all have been waiting to see, but I'll let you in on a secret: Texas is 13-12 over the last two seasons. The Mountaineers have a shot here. The Longhorn quarterbacks are average at best, but can WVU handle playing in front of 100,000 at Texas Memorial Stadium? Can the Mountaineer defensive front slow down the Longhorn running game? And can Smith, Austin, Stedman Bailey, etc., score enough on what could be the nation's best defense? Uh, no. Texas 30-21
Oct. 13, WVU at Texas Tech - If the Mountaineers keep level heads, they should win this game. Dana Holgorsen knows all about the Red Raiders after coaching them for seven years. Quarterback Seth Doege will be a handful for WVU's defense, but it shouldn't be tough for West Virginia to stop the run. The Mountaineer offense should have its way, and Shawne Alston could have a big day. WVU 38-28
Oct. 20, Kansas State at WVU - The key to this game for WVU will be avoiding sloppy play and turnovers because Wildcat coach Bill Snyder has made a very long career off those. Collin Klein is back at quarterback for K-State, as is a solid cast. Expect a tough one, especially if the Mountaineers get too amped about their return home after two away trips. Still ... WVU 28-21
Nov. 3, TCU at WVU - This should prove to be quite a battle between the two Big 12 newcomers. WVU's offense should be fine-tuned at this point and its defense improved. TCU will boast a balanced, explosive offense and a defense that also figures to improve after losing personnel from the nation's No. 1 unit from 2008-10. Expect a letdown and give the nod here to Gary Patterson and his crew. TCU 33-30
Nov. 10, WVU at Oklahoma State - T. Boone Pickens has flushed OSU with cash and it's paid football dividends, but even he couldn't stop Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon from moving to the NFL. It might be a good time for WVU to visit Stillwater. Coach Mike Gundy has a true freshman at quarterback and four new starters along the offensive line. WVU 40-24
Nov. 17, Oklahoma at WVU - This sets up as the season's most anticipated Big 12 game of the year. The Sooners were picked to finish first, the Mountaineers second. There will be at least three Heisman contenders in Smith, Austin and OU quarterback Landry Jones. But Morgantown will be wild for this one, and if Alston can provide just a bit of balance to WVU's offense, look for the upset. WVU 24-21
Nov. 23, WVU at Iowa State - Uh oh. WVU will be heading to Ames and into the lair of coach Paul Rhoads, who, as a defensive coordinator, orchestrated that infamous Pitt win over the Mountaineers in 2007 that derailed a national title game appearance. Rhoads also engineered last season's biggest national upset, an ISU overtime stunner against Oklahoma State. But look for Smith to get off to a hot start for the Mountaineers and for WVU to avoid the upset. WVU 35-17
Dec. 1, Kansas at WVU - Is this Kansas or Notre Dame? Charlie Weis? Dayne Crist? Whatever the case, West Virginia should have no problem moving against the Jayhawk defense. The Mountaineers should have no problem closing out the season on a high note - and a high position in the national rankings. WVU 52-17
Final WVU record: 10-2, Big 12 runner-up, BCS or Cotton Bowl berth.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.