The SEC welcomes Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12. The difference in styles and recruiting pipelines, and a new coaching staff at A&M, will result in transitional periods for each. Utah faced a similar adjustment period in its first season in the Pac-12, while Colorado is in the midst of a full blown rebuilding.
The Big 12’s newcomers should have no such transitions, because TCU and West Virginia are both structured to compete immediately.
Both come to the league on high notes on their way out of the Mountain West and Big East. TCU capped 2011 with eight straight wins to reach 11 for a fourth straight season, and a sixth time in eight years.
Such consistency proved TCU’s worth as a power conference program, and with one Texas-based university parting the conference, the marriage makes sense.
West Virginia dumped a BCS record 70 points on Clemson in the Orange Bowl for its 10th win. The Mountaineers were probably better than their 10-3 mark, too. A perplexing loss to Syracuse aside, WVa. accrued 533 total yards on LSU’s vaunted defense early in the campaign — four turnovers contributed to a final score more lopsided than the rest of the game indicated.
Similarly, the Mountaineers’ 38-35 loss at Louisville was the result of miscues: a blocked chip shot field goal returned for a UL touchdown early in the fourth quarter and subsequent fumble deep in Cardinal territory helped decide that one. WVa. teetered closely to 11 wins in Dana Holgorsen’s first season, and the cupboard’s stocked for Year 2.
With offensive outputs of 40.9 and 37.6 points per game, the Frog and Mountaineer offenses suit a conference that hosted six of the nation’s top 30 scoring teams in 2011. Steering those 400 horsepower engines are quarterbacks who could factor into the Heisman race — again, a fitting match for the Big 12.
Casey Pachall completed nearly 67 percent of his pass attempts for 2921 yards. For those who missed his performance in the fourth quarter against Boise State, he exhibited the kind of gutsy brass that garnered another Texas QB the bronze statue.
Pachall has NFL skill and size and returns two potent targets in Skye Dawson and Josh Boyce. Add a pair of rushers with over 700 yards, Matt Tucker and Waymon James, and the TCU offense couldn’t be any more explosive.
The added facet of a multiplayer rushing attack adds a rare element to the spread offense some programs lack. The ability to go out of the backfield with different looks makes TCU comparable to 2011 Oklahoma State, and we know how that worked in the Big 12.
On the topic of Big 12-influenced offense, West Virginia’s Geno Smith is the beneficiary of Holgorsen’s free wheeling, quarterback-friendly spread offense that clicked in two different programs in the conference. The same system that facilitated Brandon Weeden’s rise, set the foundation for Case Keenum, and gave extra arrrr to Mike Leach’s Red Raiders led to Smith’s 4385-yard, 31 touchdown campaign.
With speed demon Tavon Austin returning as his reliable No. 1 target, the sky’s the limit for Smith.
WVa. also benefits from a favorable inaugural Big 12 schedule. The Mountaineers welcome likely preseason favorite Oklahoma to Morgantown, as well as TCU and Kansas State. Four of West Virginia’s final six are at Mountaineer Field, while opening with three of its first four at home as well. WVU plays consecutive road games just once, at Texas and Texas Tech in early October.
The Frogs’ schedule is less accomodating. Before traveling to Morgantown, TCU travels to Oklahoma State. However, TCU plays exactly zero consecutive road games. Further, Carter Amon G. Carter Stadium has been particularly unforgiving to visitors. Texas, K-State, and Iowa State are among those who get to experience it firsthand in conference play.
The Frogs have a single home loss there since 2008, this season’s overtime defeat against SMU.
Now to bring these shuttles back to Earth.
Of the Frogs’ 10 losses since 2007, three were to the Big 12. The program’s record against the conference in that time is just 1-3, and the one was over a brutal Baylor team that finished 2007 3-9.
WVU’s 70-point outburst in the Orange Bowl generates a buzz that does overshadow its struggle just to win the Big East championship. Every bowl season produces at least one team whose stock the following campaign is priced way too high, based largely on its postseason showing. Illinois was an example after its pasting of Baylor in the 2010 Texas Bowl.
Holgorsen alluded to avoiding a similar fate to The Pittsburgh Post Gazette as the Mountaineers opened spring practice:
“I know that it is going to increase the expectations. I know that is unavoidable,” Holgorsen said last week. “We get a little big-headed because we scored that many points. I just got to remind them that we scored 10 against South Florida the game prior to that, so we are far from having things figured out.”
And that says nothing for the Mountaineer defense. WVa. surrendered 30-plus on five occasions, including in all three losses. The mastermind behind the program’s signature 3-3-5 defense, Jeff Casteel, left to rejoin Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.
Casteel is perhaps a more difficult defensive coordinator to replace than others because he was so responsible for innovating the formation. Joe DeForest is taking the reins and abandoning the scheme that defined WVa. for a decade, and resulted in some top 10 nationally ranked units.
DeForest is implementing a 3-4, telling MSNsportsNet that emphasis is on turnover creation. However the Mountaineers are forced to do so without leading tackler Najee Goode, Eain Smith and backfield nightmare Bruce Irvin. The three combined to force six fumbles in 2011. Also gone is interceptions leader Keith Tandy.
That’s quite a few turnovers forced a season ago DeForest must find a way to not only make up for, but exceed.
TCU has its own corps to replace, largely on the defensive end. Speculation that 60-plus Frogs had or would fail a drug test proved as factual as a Craig James PR campaign. TCU couldn’t sustain any more losses, with the defense losing numerous contributors to graduation. Tank Carder was among the team leaders in tackles the last three seasons. His departure leaves a big void, honed through three years of starting experience. D.J. Yendrey’s eligibility lapsed, but his involvement in February’s drug flap may have sealed his fate anyway.
Patterson’s defenses typically reload more than rebuild though, and TCU will be able to feed off a stout line. Ends Stansly Maponga and Ross Forrest combined for nearly 20 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Their productivity against the Big(ger) 12 offensive lines will tell the tale how TCU stacks up against the conference’s potent offenses.
Against Baylor last September, TCU managed just one sack of Robert Griffin III.