Morgantown

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Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns blitzed the Mountaineers with a 12-2 run at the end the first half to grab a 14-point lead they never relinquished en route to an 80-69 win in Morgantown, W.Va. on Monday night.

Texas (13-4, 2-2 Big 12) held a six-point lead with 4:09 remaining in the first half when it began to consistently attack the bucket. In the run, the Longhorns exploited their quickness and size advantage over West Virginia (10-7, 2-2 Big 12) as each of the team’s next 12 points came inside the paint or at the free-throw line.

Balance spurred the Longhorns on the offensive end. Four Texas players reached double digits, with sophomore guard Javan Felix leading the way with 19 points. Freshman guards Isaiah Taylor and Martez Walker added 10 points each, and sophomore center Cameron Ridley notched a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

The Longhorns’ biggest advantage over West Virginia was on the boards, where an undersized Mountaineer squad had a difficult time competing with the bulk and length of Texas’ frontcourt.

Before Monday night, the Mountaineers had outrebounded opponents by two boards a game. At home against the Longhorns, they were outrebounded 49-30, making it difficult for West Virginia to find second-chance attempts.

The Mountaineers, who rely heavily on the three to score, couldn’t find their touch behind the three-point line. West Virginia made only four of 25 attempts, well below their season average of 46 percent. The problem only intensified when Texas gained a large lead. The Mountaineers were forced to chuck up more deep balls in an attempt to make a comeback.

Texas played one of its most efficient offensive games of the season, shooting 52.7 percent from the field. The Longhorns shot only nine three-pointers on the night, tying their lowest attempt total on the season.

A late run by West Virginia made the game close in the final minutes, but the Mountaineers never cracked the 10-point barrier.

Taylor, the Longhorns’ starting point guard and spark plug, suffered an apparent hamstring injury midway through the second half and went to the locker room. But Taylor returned to action minutes later and played the remainder of the game without any visible discomfort.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

After thrilling overtime play, Texas was able to escape from Morgantown, W.VA., with its sixth Big 12 victory of the season in as many tries. Here are four key aspects of Texas’ 47-40 win Saturday night win during its first ever trip to West Virginia.

Strong defensive line

Texas’ defensive line has been a very talked about aspect of the Longhorns play this season for good reason. And Saturday night, the front four once again produced a strong showing.

Texas tallied seven sacks and forced two fumbles against the Mountaineers. Junior defensive end Cedric Reed produced All-American-like play as he recorded his second forced fumble in consecutive games, while senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat recorded another sack. Through the last six games, Texas has now recorded 24 sacks.

Inconsistent offense

Once again, senior quarterback Case McCoy came through in the end to win the game. But the offense was inconsistent for most of the night as McCoy completed just 27 of his 49 pass attempts.

Twice, the Longhorns had 1st-and-goal from the seven-yard line and failed to get the ball in the end zone. Their first four drives of the game ended in a safety, fumble, interception and a punt. Despite this, in the second half, Texas was able to score 27 points as it traded leads with West Virginia.

Injuries

The Longhorns were able to gain their sixth Big 12 victory of the season without two of their main forces who are now sidelined for the rest of the season — junior running back Johnathan Gray and senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley. Whaley was carted off the field after injuring his left knee on a goal line play in the first quarter. Whaley has accounted for two defensive touchdowns this season. In the third quarter, Gray suffered an Achilles injury. Gray has gathered 780 yards of rushing this season with four touchdowns, making him one of Texas’ biggest offensive weapons.

Turnovers

Despite two losses, Texas has yet to lose the turnover battle this season. The Longhorns suffered two turnovers against West Virginia while the Mountaineers gave up the ball five times. Turnovers have been a key factor to the Longhorns success in the Big 12. Against Oklahoma and Kansas, scores off of turnovers produced the much-needed momentum that has kept Texas undefeated.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Between 2011 and 2012, the Longhorns reeled off a number of impressive victories in hostile environments.

They knocked off Texas A&M in College Station on Thanksgiving 2011, then racked up road wins against Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in each of their opposing stadiums last season. Texas has yet to truly weather the storm of a vicious opposing crowd this season, and it will get its first opportunity to do so on Saturday at West Virginia.

“We’ve heard so much about the atmosphere there and how great the fans are and how much they love football and love their team,” head coach Mack Brown said. “It’ll be a fun challenge for us, but the guys are sure looking forward to it.”

Nobody on the Longhorns’ roster has played at West Virginia before, as the trip to Morgantown will be the first in school history. While the players are prepared for the rowdy Mountaineers fan base, senior cornerback Carrington Byndom admits he knows little else about the opposing venue.

“Nothing at all,” Byndom said. “I know it’s going to be cold, that’s for sure. I’ve never been there or never really been to West Virginia. But I heard it’s going to be a pretty crazy atmosphere, another great away atmosphere for us, so we’ll see how we handle it.”

The forecast currently calls for a high of 54 degrees and a low of 41 degrees in Morgantown this Saturday. While Texas does not have much experience playing in the cold, junior center Dominic Espinosa is looking forward to taking a break from the elevated temperatures he is accustomed to.

“You’re so used to playing in 100-degree weather all summer, all camp and early on in the season,” Espinosa said. “Definitely, as an offensive line, you’re excited to go play somewhere cold where you might not be sweating as much as you
might normally.”

Aside from the frigid weather, Texas must deal with a Mountaineers squad that continues to play well at home. West Virginia boasts a 3-1 record in front of its home crowd this season, including an early-season victory over No. 15 Oklahoma State.

Brown still remains excited about the opportunity to pick up his third road victory of the season in front of the most raucous fan base they’ve faced thus far.

“I love that,” Brown said. “It’s so much fun to go where the other fans hate you. The fans are stirring it up and screaming at the kids, and I think it’s just a great feeling to overcome that and win against all odds.”

While none of the players have suited up in Morgantown, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson made the trip during his tenure as head coach of Syracuse from 2005-08. Robinson confirmed West Virginia is a difficult place to play, and he expects the Mountaineers fans to go all out with Texas in town.

“They’re all about their program, and they’re going to let you know about it,” Robinson said. “The thought of Texas coming up there, these people are going to love that now. We’re going to get their best shot.”

Despite this, the Longhorns remain confident they will be able to overcome West Virginia’s wild environment, and a victory would push Texas one step closer toward a Big 12 championship.

Just like it did last year, Texas, like it usually does, walked off the field a winner over Kansas. 

Unlike last year, the Longhorns didn’t need a last-minute touchdown pass from Case McCoy to beat the Jayhawks. Instead, despite McCoy getting picked off twice without scoring a touchdown, Texas picked up a relatively easy 35-13 victory over last-place Kansas. 

“This was a true trap game,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Everybody talks about the struggles of Kansas all week, and that’s all the kids hear. Everybody is bragging on them and I did tell them during the week… They came out and I thought they did well to handle what they needed to win the game decisively.”

For the most part, Brown is right. All anyone talked about leading up to the Kansas game was how bad the Jayhakws, who are still trying to snap a 26-game losing streak against Big 12 opponents, were and how great the Longhorns, 5-0 in Big 12 play now, were. 

But last week’s game against Kansas was not a “trap” game. Not nearly as much as this week’s contest in Morgantown against West Virginia is a “trap” game. 

A traditional “trap” game is one where a team overlooks an overmatched opponent because of a big game the following week. In Texas’ case, it has THREE big games to look forward to after facing West Virginia. The Longhorns host Oklahoma State two Saturdays from now, then host Texas Tech on Thanksgiving before going to Waco to play the only other team in the Big 12 still unbeaten in conference play – Baylor. 

“We have as good a chance as anybody to win the next four games,” Brown said. “We’ve just got to do it one game at a time.”

It won’t just be easy to overlook West Virginia, but the Mountaineers can make the Longhorns pay for overlooking them. West Virginia comes into this game with a losing record at 4-5 and is fighting just to become bowl eligible this year. 

But Texas is making its first trip to Morgantown in school history. As a head coach at Syracuse, current Longhorns defensive coordinator Greg Robinson made two trips there, losing both times. 

“It’s a great atmosphere, especially at night,” Robinson said. “It’s a good football town. It really is. They’re all about their program and they’re going to let you know it.”

It will face a team that was shut out by Maryland and allowed 73 points to Baylor earlier this year, but also handed Oklahoma State its only loss this season and nearly knocked off Oklahoma the same day Texas was blasted by BYU. 

So don’t sleep on the Mountaineers. Don’t fall for the “trap” Texas’ game against West Virginia presents. Because they might creep up on Texas and snatch an unexpected victory from the Longhorns’ grasp and burn that couch you’re sleeping on.

Texas wins if…

it gets off to a quick start. While West Virginia appears to be the weakest of the remaining opponents on the schedule, Morgantown is a tricky little place to play. Ask Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State, whose only loss of the season came courtesy of the Mountaineers in Milan Puskar Stadium. Texas has never played a game in Morgantown, and the crowd will surely be chaotic to welcome their new conference rivals into their house. The formula for the Longhorns is the same as it has been through their recent stretch of success, ground and pound the opponent to death. With the offensive line’s resurgence and Jonathan Gray and Malcolm Brown running the ball as well as they have at any point in their career, getting the ground game going early will be key. Nothing drains a raucous crowd more effectively than methodically moving the ball on the ground and putting up points early and often. If Case McCoy can continue to manage the game as well as he has while the running game finds its feet, the Longhorns will be in good shape.

 

Texas loses if…

it lets starting West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett set up shop in the pocket. Before Trickett was inserted as the starting quarterback in the fifth week of the season, the Mountaineers offense was sluggish and inefficient, averaging 18 points per game, culminating in a shutout loss to Maryland. After head coach Dana Holgorsen inserted Trickett into the lineup, the Mountaineers offense quickly improved, immediately leading them to a win against No. 11 Oklahoma State. Since then, the offense has averaged 21.6 points per game. While Trickett won’t be confused for Geno Smith, who led West Virginia to a shootout win over the Longhorns a year ago, he has given the offense some much needed life. On the ground, the Mountaineers are led by Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith, averaging 5.2 and 4.6 yards, respectively. If Cedric Reed, Jackson Jeffcoat and the rest of the defensive line cannot make life tough for Trickett while stuffing the running game, the Mountaineers are sure to pile up some points, inciting a crowd that will already be boisterous. The Longhorns lose if they get behind early and let a shootout unfold in Morgantown.

The Longhorns have won their last five games and have covered the spread in two of their last three. After an implausibly inconsistent start to the season, Texas is finally beginning to find some semblance of stability. West Virginia is a sneaky tough opponent at home though. The Mountaineers beat Oklahoma State in Morgantown and led Texas Tech by double digits in the second half before losing it in the fourth quarter. Texas can’t afford to get caught looking ahead to the Oklahoma State game next week. This won’t be a blowout, but if the defense continues its improvement under defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, they should be able to cover the relatively small spread of 6.5.

Texas (-6.5) at West Virginia

 

Lock of the Week

UCLA (-1.5) at Arizona        

These two Pac-12 teams have the same record, which is why the line is so close, but UCLA’s two losses have come on the road against two teams in Oregon and Stanford that are currently ranked in the Top 5 of the BCS standings. Arizona has yet to play any of the top Pac-12 teams. The Wildcats have coasted against a mediocre schedule and have lost to the only semi-decent teams they’ve played this season, USC and Washington. The Bruins are much more battle–tested and should win, and if they do, it’ll be by more than the meager 1.5 points needed to cover.

 

Upset Alert

Nevada (+9.5) at Colorado State

Nevada has the worst record between the two at 3-6, but the Wolfpack have played an unusually tough schedule for a Mountain West team. Three of their losses have come against No. 2 Florida State, No. 16 Fresno State, and No. 19 UCLA. Give them some respect for scheduling some tough teams they didn’t have to. I think they’re better than their record indicates and they should be able to beat a high 9.5 point spread.

 

Record: 11-12-1 (.479)

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

Texas women’s soccer will hit the road to play West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., and Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., coming off its first Big 12 Conference wins at home last weekend.

Texas beat TCU on Friday and Iowa State on Sunday to improve to an 8-3-1 record on the season, marking a four game winning streak. The team’s last loss came on the road to Colorado
College.

Since the loss, Texas has outscored its opponents 11-1 and so far this season it has seen 11 different players ranging from freshman forwards to the sophomore goalkeeper score a goal and 16 players record either an assist or goal.

“It takes a little bit of pressure off of each player and it certainly makes it hard to defend us,” head coach Angela Kelly said. “We’re going to need to be battle tested and we’re going to need every single one of us to be plugged in.”

Of the 11 players who scored, six have scored multiple goals. In 2012, only nine different players scored for the entire season. Sophomore forward Kelsey Shimmick and junior defender Brooke Gilbert lead the team with four goals apiece, followed by sophomore midfielder Chantale Campbell with three. 

The Mountaineers hold an 8-2-2 record and also head into the matchup on a four-game winning streak and an undefeated mark in Big 12 play, having beat Oklahoma State and Baylor in their last outings. The win against Baylor broke up a 31-game win streak for the Bears. Since joining the conference last year, West Virginia has yet to lose a Big 12 regular
season game.

“I’ve competed against West Virginia my whole career, especially at Tennessee and I have a ton of respect for their coaching staff and for their style of play,” Kelly said after the Iowa State win. “It’s a great environment in Morgantown. This is like an NCAA first or second round game to me. We’re ultimately here to win championships, so we need a little bit of that seasoning and we’re going to get it.”

Kansas will play TCU at home Sunday after taking on Texas on Friday. Going into the weekend, the Jayhawks have a 5-5-1 record, and are coming off a loss to Santa Clara. The Jawhawks will open conference play against the teams from Texas.

“It’s one game at time,” Kelly said. “It’s still very early in the conference season and we can’t ever look past an opponent and we’ve been taking it one game at a time.”

1. Kansas State:

After steamrolling West Virginia in Morgantown, Kansas State is not only in prime position to win the Big 12, but is now one of the frontrunners for the national championship. Kansas State has the No. 1 red zone defense in the conference and has only turned the ball over once in Big 12 play. This week’s opponent, Texas Tech, could bring a substantial challenge to Kansas State. But the Wildcats have shut down Oklahoma and West Virginia, and adding the scalp of the Red Raiders to their wall would give them a nice set. Don’t expect Kansas State to have a letdown.
 

2. Oklahoma:
The Sooners continue to roll since their loss to the Wildcats, but Kansas State continues to win, and it looking impressive in doing so. Oklahoma needs to start cheering for the rest of the Big 12 to beat Kansas State twice in order for Oklahoma to win its eighth Big 12 title. The Sooners are averaging 52 points a game in their current three-game win streak and their defense has been smothering opposing offenses. But now a new challenge comes into Norman in the form of Notre Dame. The Irish are one of the toughest and most physical teams in the country and will have a similar approach to stopping the Sooners as Kansas State did. There were a lot of questions about the Sooners in the wake of that home loss to the Wildcats which have quickly gone away. But they could come back with a vengeance if Notre Dame is able to bully the Sooners.

3. Texas Tech:
The Red Raiders pulled out a close win against TCU on the road and are still in contention for the Big 12 title. If Texas Tech can shock the world and pull off another top five upset this weekend, then it will be one Sooner loss away from its first conference championship since 1994. But it will take a lot for the Red Raiders to beat the Wildcats, who present one of the best defenses they have faced.

4. Texas:
The Longhorns recovered from their poor offensive showing with a 56-point outburst against Baylor. The defense continued its poor play by allowing the Bears to make a game out of it with 50 points. The Bears only punted three times, ran out of time in the first half, and had two turnovers that cost them the game. The Texas defense could not get of the field. Texas is stopping 42 percent of third downs, which is about average in the Big 12, but Texas has yet to stop a fourth down conversion this season. The Texas defense cannot make timely stops and until it does, it will have to outscore all of its opponents. Though the offense is improved, it cannot execute well enough to pull that off every week.

5. Oklahoma State:
The Cowboys have bounced back from their 2-2 start with a two-game winning streak including a home win over a ranked Iowa State team last week. Oklahoma State gets a battered TCU team at home this weekend before going to Manhattan to play league leader Kansas State. Once the game against TCU is done this week, the easy part of Oklahoma States schedule is over. Three of its last five games will be on the road and its home games won’t be too good either with West Virginia and Texas Tech going to Stillwater.

6. West Virginia:

The one-time leaders of the Big 12 are now trying to find a way to recover from two straight beatings. The Mountaineers have been outscored 104-28 and its stout offense has suddenly become very stoppable. With national and conference championship hopes gone, and Geno Smith’s Heisman chances essentially dashed, West Virginia will have to find something to play for before this season falls apart.

7. TCU:
The Horned Frogs have three road games left this season, which should come as good news for TCU fans. It has two losses on the season, both of which have come at home. First Iowa State pushed a Casey Pachall-less TCU around, then Texas Tech took advantage of TCU turnovers to make up for a lackluster offensive game by Tech Standards. TCU gets to get comfortable on the road this week against Oklahoma State, and one thing is guaranteed: there will be turnovers in this game. We just don’t know from which team yet.

8. Iowa State:
The Cyclones are in a bit of a tailspin after getting off to a 3-0 start to the season, dropping three of their last four games. Kansas remains on the schedule, but with big offenses from Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia still to come, it will be hard for Iowa State to reach the six-win mark and achieve bowl eligibility. Fortunately for the Cyclones, they get the three worst defensive teams in the conference, beginning with Baylor this week.

9. Baylor:
The Bears have decided to play on just one side of the ball this season. They have the worst scoring defense in the country, allowing teams to score 44 points a contest. It’s only gotten worse in conference play, where teams are scoring 58 points a game. Were it not for Baylor’s offense, it may not have a single win this season. It leads the Big 12 and is third in the nation in scoring offense this season, scored below 40 points just once this season. The Bears have score 134 points in three conference games this season, but have allowed an astonishing 175 points in as many games. If the Bears can manage just a couple of stops in a game, their offense has a chance to pull out a win.

10. Kansas:
A week after coming within a single score of landing its second win of the season, Kansas got throttled by a rolling Oklahoma team. It has already played the top two teams in the conference and has been outscored 108-23 in those two games. While some conference schools are seeing how poorly they can play on defense, the Jayhawks have given offense a bad name: they have scored five total touchdowns in Big 12 play and are only ahead of Auburn in scoring among BCS conference schools.

Heisman Hopefuls

Colin Klein used his arm and his legs to lead Kansas State to a major win in Norman. The victory over the Sooners has vaulted Kansas State into the National Title picture, and atop the Big 12.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Geno Smith - Senior QB, West Virginia
Last Week: 30-43 (69.8 percent) for 338 yards and three passing TDs.
Season: 96-118 (81.4 percent) for 1,072 yards and 12 TDs.

The Mountaineers’ signal caller is the leader of one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Smith’s profile has a chance to skyrocket over the next few weeks as West Virginia faces Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas State. West Virginia is near the bottom of the Big 12 in total defense, so for the Mountaineers to win the conference, it will be relying on Smith and the offense to carry the load.. Baylor brings one of the most high octane offenses in the nation into Morgantown, and if West Virginia is going to stay unbeaten Smith will need to be on top of his game. With both defenses near the bottom of the Big 12, Smith will have a golden opportunity to put up monster numbers and cement his place atop the Heisman race. Smith’s biggest opposition could come from his own team if Tavon Austin erupts.

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E.J. Manuel - Senior QB, Florida State
Last Week: - 27-35 (77.1 percent) for 380 yards and two passing TDs.
Season: - 69-94 (73.4 percent) for 905 yards, eight TDs and one interception.

The victory over Clemson at home was the Seminoles’ first marquee win of the season, and could be the last one. The ACC is not a strong conference this season. Outside of Florida State and Clemson, there is not another ranked team in the conference. Virginia Tech can still be dangerous, and the Seminoles have a road game against Virginia Tech in November, but that is about all the ACC has to offer. Florida State needs for Florida to continue to get better and provide another marquee game — and, for Manuel, a stage — at the end of the season. Manuel is the most dynamic player Florida State has had in years and his play has been key for the Seminoles being relevant again on the national stage.

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Colin Klein - Senior QB, Kansas State
Last Week: 13-21 (61.9 percent) for 149 yards. 17 rushes for 79 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and one TD.
Season: 56-80 (70 percent) for 758 yards for five TDs and two interceptions, 63 rushes for 289 yards(4.6 yards per carry) and five TDs.

Kansas State’s trip to Norman did more than lift the veil on a Sooners team that is filled with holes; it proved that the Wildcats are not a one-hit wonder. There is not a more disciplined and technically sound team in the country than the Wildcats, not surprising for a team coached by Bill Snyder. The other signature trait of Snyder’s teams is that they are tough, and there may not be a tougher player in the nation than the man some call “Optimus Klein.” If Kansas State wins in Morgantown in a few weeks similarly to how it won in Norman, then expect Klein to stick around on this list for a long time.

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Matt Barkley - Senior QB, USC
Last Week: 22-34 (64.7 percent) for 192 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
Season: 88-143 (61.5 percent) for 1,005 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions.

Barkley’s Heisman chances may have taken a shot, but they are not dead just yet. He is still one of the best quarterbacks in the country and USC can still make its way back into the National Championship chase, but it has some work to do. With only two games left against opponents currently ranked, the Trojans need to make sure they run the table in order to keep Barkley in contention. The strength of the Trojans’ schedule is at the end, with Oregon and Notre Dame both making trips to the Coliseum in November. Matchups against dangerous UCLA and Arizona State squads also highlight USC’s November schedule. Barkley will need to put up stellar numbers if he wants to climb the Heisman ladder, otherwise he is going to passed up by other players as their teams eye national titles.

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Aaron Murray - Junior QB, Georgia
Last Week: 18-24 (75 percent) for 250 yards and two TDs.
Season: 69-104 (66 percent) for 1092 yards, 10 TDs and two interceptions.

With Arkansas falling apart at the seams, Murray has dethroned Tyler Wilson as the top passer in the SEC. Murray’s stats are solid, but he has yet to play any elite competition. That should change as the Bulldogs get deeper into their SEC schedule. He will have a showdown against Tennessee’s Tyler Bray this weekend in what should mark the start of his Heisman campaign. The Dawgs’ schedule really heats up in two weeks when they head to Columbia to play South Carolina in a game that could decide the SEC East. Three weeks later, Georgia will host a tough and resurgent Florida team. If Georgia navigates its schedule, and gets past either LSU or Alabama in the SEC title game, Murray has a chance to take over the top spot in the Heisman race.

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A.J. McCarron - Junior QB, Alabama
Last Week: 15-25 (60 percent) for 212 yards and three TDs.
Season: 51-81 (63 percent) for 819 yards and 10 TDs.

The Crimson Tide is almost the unanimous choice for the top team in the country. Although most of the attention will fall on its defense, when it faces LSU, it will be up to McCarron to guide the Alabama offense to victory. Without Trent Richardson in the backfield, McCarron takes on a larger role in the offense, and he will have to show that he can take full control of the offense as defenses stack the box to stop the run. Traditionally, the quarterback on the nation’s top ranked team has a guaranteed spot in the Heisman race. While Alabama doesn’t necessarily conform to that trend, McCarron will be in the spotlight a lot as the season goes on and he belongs on this list until the Crimson Tide stumble.

The press speak to West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

I’ll admit it — I was one of the seven people who picked West Virginia to win the Big 12 this year.

Thirty-two of the 41 people who submitted ballots for this year’s preseason Big 12 poll predicted that Oklahoma would win the conference, with fifth-place TCU and sixth-place Kansas State each receiving one first-place vote. The other seven went to West Virginia, which, like TCU, is entering its first year in the Big 12. Texas is expected to finish third in the conference this upcoming season.

“It seems like everyone in the room thinks we’re pretty good,” Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen said at Big 12 Media Days this week. “Our team is used to winning, and that exists at the other nine universities in the Big 12 as well. So the best way I can describe it to the people of West Virginia and the best way I can describe it to the Big 12, everybody else, is what exists in the Big 12 exists in Morgantown, W. Va., as well.”

Led by quarterback Geno Smith, now a senior, West Virginia won 10 games last year, the last of which was the most memorable. The Mountaineers dropped 70 points in an Orange Bowl win over Clemson. Smith, who was chosen by the media as the Big 12 preseason Offensive Player of the Year, threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns while running for a seventh.

“It was the perfect game,” Smith said. “The only negative is that people are going to expect us to score 70 points every game. I don’t know if we made it look easy or not but that’s extremely hard.”

Most people believe West Virginia won’t capture the conference crown in their first year as a member of the Big 12, a league much tougher than the Big East that the Mountaineers have won each of the past two years. Besides their recent success over the past decade, West Virginia’s last triumph should provide them plenty of momentum heading into this season.

“If you actually go back and watch the game, you’ll see that I made a lot of bad throws,” Smith recalled. “Four touchdowns were tipped passes. The team did a great job but, Geno Smith as a quarterback, I’d probably grade myself as a little bit above average.”

One need only look at Texas’ recent history to realize how important bowl victories can be for a team. A 52-34 win over Arizona State in the 2007 Holiday Bowl sparked Texas to a 2008 season that ended in a dramatic 24-21 Fiesta Bowl triumph over Ohio State. Before the Longhorns captured a national championship (their thrilling 41-38 win over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl), they took down Michigan in Pasadena the previous year.

“If you go back to 2004, we were second in rushing ... going into the Michigan game and were able to win the Rose Bowl,” Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “The next year is when we were really balanced, and that’s when Vince stepped up and we were throwing the ball much better.”

Unlike Oklahoma, West Virginia brings back Smith’s top two weapons from a year ago in wide receivers Tavon Austin, who joined Smith on the preseason All-Big 12 squad, and Stedman Bailey. Austin and Bailey combined for 2,465 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in 2011.

The Sooners will have a formidable one-two punch at wideout in Kenny Stills, the other preseason All-Big 12 receiver, and Jaz Reynolds but will be without their leading pass catcher from last season, Ryan Broyles. After Broyles tore his ACL against Texas A&M, OU quarterback Landry Jones struggled, throwing just one touchdown pass and six interceptions in the last four games of the year.

“I think Landry Jones is also very deserving of that [preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year] honor as I am,” Smith said. “I appreciate the guys selecting me. It doesn’t please me in any type of way. I’m going to be the same guy I’ve always been. I’ve been receiving a lot of awards my whole life. It doesn’t really faze me that much.”

Another thing the Mountaineers have going for them is the fact that they host Oklahoma in their first meeting with the Sooners as members of the Big 12. OU will travel to Morgantown to face West Virginia Nov. 17. The Sooners beat Florida State and Kansas State on the road last season but struggled in losses to Baylor in Waco and to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Their road trip to West Virginia will be their toughest next year.

Where most think the Sooners’ advantage over the Mountaineers is their defense, last year’s numbers show that West Virginia’s might have been better than most believe. The Mountaineers are known for their offense but they allowed 203.5 passing yards per game last year, the second fewest in the Big East and less than any team in the Big 12, six fewer yards per game than Texas allowed in 2011. The 348.2 total yards per game West Virginia surrendered was good for third in the Big East and would have been the second best mark in the Big 12, behind only Texas (306.1).

West Virginia understands winning the Big 12 is a much more difficult task than capturing the Big East title. But their expectations are high, and for good reason.

“As long as we win games, people will understand we belong,” Smith said. “I expect to win every game. I expect to complete every pass. I expect to make perfect reads. Is that going to happen? No. I figured if you hold yourself to that standard, you know what they say, if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land amongst the stars.”

When it comes to stars in the Big 12, Smith could prove to be the brightest. Don’t be surprised if he leads the Mountaineers to their third straight conference title.