Mountaineers Gearing Up
Members of the Big 12 media have spoken, and probably not all that surprisingly – season-ticket sales are the lowest they have been in nine years – to the majority of West Virginia University football fans, the news is not flattering where their team is concerned.
The group released its preseason poll Thursday, and for the second consecutive season the Mountaineers are picked to finish eighth in the 10-team league.
Oklahoma received 47 of the 56 first-place votes and garnered 548 total points to go into the season as the favorite to capture its ninth conference championship. Defending Big 12 champion Baylor was the recipient of the other nine first-place votes and came in as a solid second with 508 total votes, easily outdistancing third-place Kansas State (377).
The Sooners return 20 starters from a team that went 11-2 and captured a Sugar Bowl title. The program’s eight Big 12 titles are a league record.
Texas (376) and Oklahoma State (312) round out the Top 5, followed by Texas Tech (308), TCU (297), West Virginia (170), Iowa State (121) and Kansas (63).
Coach Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers are coming off a disappointing 4-8 finish that included what most observers considered embarrassing losses to the two teams that trail them in the preseason poll. West Virginia fell 31-19 at Kansas and dropped a 52-44, triple-overtime shootout at home to Iowa State, a game the Mountaineers at one point led, 31-7.
Coaches and selected players will meet in Dallas on Monday and Tuesday for the annual Big 12 media days. Those spots are generally reserved for star performers, but perhaps somewhat clairvoyantly the Mountaineers will be represented by receiver Kevin White, cornerback Daryl Worley and punter Nick O’Toole, who is every bit as much known for his moustache as his 44.1-yard average last season. O’Toole isn’t even pegged as the best at his position within the conference, that preseason honor being bestowed upon Baylor’s Spencer Roth.
Clint Trickett returns, having already been named the starting quarterback for the Aug. 30 opener against national power Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. That’s generally a good thing, but in this case maybe it’s not. Trickett, who is coming off shoulder surgery, was the third option last season behind Ford Childress, who left the program, and Paul Millard, who is back for his senior season.
Though Dana Holgorsen’s much-hyped offense, one it should be noted returns 70 percent of its production – third in the Big 12 – has been inconsistent at best the last two seasons, most eyes will be on a defense that surrendered a shade less than 36 points per game in 2013, including 73 in a 29-point loss to Baylor. New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson inherits greater depth and talent than predecessor Keith Patterson was ever graced with, including Joseph, an All-Big 12 preseason selection at defensive back, but the Mountaineers have to find a way to get off the field on third down, having failed to do so 46.6 percent of the time (last in the Big 12, 118th nationally) a season ago.