CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 West Virginia

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2011 record: 10-3 overall, 5-2 in Big East (1st-tie)

2011 postseason: Orange Bowl (70-33 win over Clemson)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 17/No. 18

Head coach: Dana Holgorsen (10-3 in one season at West Virginia)

Offensive coordinator: Shannon Dawson (second season at WVU, first as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 92nd rushing offense (122.7 ypg); 6th passing offense (346.8 ypg); 15th total offense (469.5 ypg); 13th scoring offense (37.6 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: eight

Defensive coordinator: Joe DeForest (first season as co-DC) and Keith Patterson (first season as co-DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 55th rushing defense (144.8 ypg); 35th passing defense (203.5 ypg); 33rd total defense (348.2 ypg); 61st scoring defense (26.8 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Morgantown, W.Va.

Stadium: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium (60,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011 (co-champs with Cincinnati and Louisville)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
At the quarterback position right now, it doesn’t get much better than Geno Smith in the game, and the senior is one of eight offensive starters returning from a unit that was one of the most explosive — hello, Clemson! — in its first season under Holgorsen.  Also among the returning starters on that side of the ball are a pair of receivers — Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey — who were seemingly born to play in Holgorsen’s version of the spread.  With experienced talent at the running back position returning as well, offense will be the least of WVU’s worries in its first season in the Big 12.

The Bad
Then there’s the opposite of the worry spectrum.  The defense was fair-to-middlin’ in the offensive-deficient Big East; entering the Big 12, the Mountaineers will face a greater challenge  nearly every week compared to what they were used to in their former conference.  As a signal that the staff was fully cognizant of both the deficiencies on defense in 2011 and the stiffer offensive competition in its new conference, WVU scrapped its 3-3-5 defense and will be going with (mostly) a version of the 3-4 defense.  Suffice to say, that new iteration of the 3-4 defense will be put to the test early and often in the offensively-superior Big 12.

The Unknown
The Big 12 fit.  Specifically, how fast can the Mountaineers get up to speed — both literally and figuratively — in a football conference that’s vastly superior to what they’ve been used to the past two decades.  Gone are the likes of Cincinnati and Louisville and Pittsburgh, replaced annually with Oklahoma and Texas and Oklahoma State and TCU and… well, you get the point.  With the presence of Holgorsen, it feels as if the Mountaineers will make as seamless a transition as possible and should be a prime contender in its virgin tour around the Big 12.  Still, it’s an unknown how quickly WVU will adapt to its new conference home.

Make-or-break game: at Texas, Oct. 6
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a make-or-break game for the Mountaineers; rather, it might be better to state that it should serve as a litmus test for the remainder of the conference season.  The Longhorns should — should — provide a stiffer Big 12 test than they have the past couple of seasons, and give the Mountaineers a solid idea of how their first season in the Big 12 will go as it gets into the meat of their first conference slate — TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma the first three weekends in November.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Geno Smith
In his first season in Holgorsen’s offense, Smith threw for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 526 attempts.  With an experienced group of receivers returning, and yet another offseason soaking in the scheme, Smith should enter 2012 as one of the preseason favorites, although, for whatever reason, he flies below some radars nationally.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Miami jumps Clemson, Wisconsin remains No. 5 in latest CFP rankings

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The third-to-last edition of the College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and the only changes in the top 12 came at spot No. 2, where Miami jumped Clemson ahead of the pair’s ACC title clash on Dec. 2.

USC remained the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at No. 11, dimming any hopes the Pac-12 could back-door its way into the top four should chaos reign elsewhere. The Trojans were one spot ahead of TCU and two spots ahead of the Pac-12’s second-highest ranked team in Washington State. Central Florida again led all Group of 5 teams at No. 15.

Virginia Tech re-joined the rankings at No. 25, one spot behind the debut rankings for South Carolina.

The top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Wisconsin
6. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. Penn State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Washington State
14. Mississippi State
15. Central Florida
16. Michigan State
17. Washington
18. LSU
19. Oklahoma State
20. Memphis
21. Stanford
22. Northwestern
23. Boise State
24. South Carolina
25. Virginia Tech

Report: LSU victory would not save Kevin Sumlin’s job

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Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday afternoon he expects to be Texas A&M’s head coach in 2018. A report Tuesday night says otherwise.

Sumlin will be fired in the day or days following Saturday’s game with No. 20 LSU, win or lose, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle. The Aggies are 0-5 against LSU under Sumlin and double-digit underdogs for Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge. The Chronicle‘s report is not the first to proclaim Sumlin’s future firing, but it is the most definitive.

Sumlin is 7-4 (4-3 SEC) this season and 51-25 overall, a mark that ranks in the top-third of the SEC since joining the league in 2012 — but Sumlin is not paid to deliver top-third results. His program failed to live up to the standard set in that debut campaign, with an 11-2 mark, a win in Tuscaloosa, a Cotton Bowl blowout of Oklahoma and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel.

The Chronicle reported that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will be A&M’s top target to replace Sumlin.

Nebraska AD Bill Moos wants to keep Huskers-Hawkeyes on Black Friday

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It was the 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois that pushed Shawn Eichorst out the door, but I wonder if it wasn’t a news item on the Tuesday before that game that convinced Nebraska stakeholders to replace their athletics director. The Big Ten released its 2020-21 football schedules on Sept. 12, four days ahead of Nebraska-NIU, and they featured Nebraska concluding each season against Minnesota — on a Saturday.

For a program that shed all of its traditions in leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten, losing the Black Friday finale was the final cut of the string that connected the current program to any vestige of its past. Eichorst didn’t get Nebraska, and allowing the Black Friday game to be lost proved it. Or so it seemed.

Bill Moos is Nebraska’s AD now, and he’d like to see things remain as they are: with the Black Friday finale, and against Iowa.

“I’m going to really push to establish Iowa as being our rival,” Moos said the Husker Sports Nightly radio show, via the Lincoln Journal-Star. “We came into the Big Ten and we need a rivalry game, and I’ve already been to the Big Ten and talked to them about that so hopefully we can keep that Black Friday game and have that be Iowa each year.”

Nebraska still has two more games against Iowa scheduled after this season, and the Huskers and Hawkeyes have met in each of Nebraska’s six previous Big Ten seasons. The series is deadlocked at 3-3 over that span. (Nebraska led 26-12-3 before joining the Big Ten.)

Though the Nebraska-Minnesota games are on the schedule as of now, there’s really no reason the Big Ten can’t change its schedules for 2020 and ’21 to preserve this tradition. And it should.

Big 12 issues public reprimands to Baker Mayfield, Kansas captains

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The Crotch Grab Seen ‘Round the World has found a way to remain in the news cycle, now 72 hours after it happened.

Oklahoma announced Monday that Baker Mayfield will not serve as a team captain and will now start for the No. 4 Sooners against West Virginia on Saturday, and earlier Tuesday Kansas announced that the players who refused to shake Mayfield’s hand will not serve as captains for its own finale against No. 13 Oklahoma State.

But if those mostly-empty gestures weren’t enough to get the players’ attention, surely this will do it: a public reprimand from the conference office.

The Big 12 issued this reprimand to Mayfield for violating the conference’s Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct rules. Said commissioner Bob Bowlsby:

“Mr. Mayfield’s actions are unacceptable and should not be tolerated. I am grateful for the efficient management of this matter by the coaches and administration of the University of Oklahoma.  Baker Mayfield is a truly outstanding competitor and I generally appreciate his style of play and the manner in which he competes. However, the behavior he exhibited on the sideline during the Oklahoma-Kansas game was inappropriate and contrary to our sportsmanship policies.”

And here’s Bowlsby’s slap on the wrist to Kansas captains Joe Dineen, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Jeremiah Booker, and Daniel Wise:

“The refusal of these student-athletes to shake an opponent’s hand during the pre-game ceremony is contrary to tradition and inconsistent with common courtesy. The pre-game handshake among team captains is symbolic of good sportsmanship.  This breach of protocol is not in keeping with the standards of the Big 12 Conference.  I am grateful for the work of the Kansas administration and coaches to resolve this matter.”

The Big 12 noted that this was actually the fifth sportsmanship reprimand it has issued in its history. So there’s that.

Perhaps we can all move on now.