Running the table in the Big 12 Conference is a tough feat to accomplish and is a rarity in college football in any conference. We saw Oklahoma do it in 2016 and many believe they have the talent to possibly do it again in 2017. The question for us Mountaineer fans is: Can West Virginia ever do it or at least get close? My take would be probably not, that's if you want me to be realistic, although I'm not saying it is impossible or that we won't come close. Dana Holgorsen has two 10-win seasons under his belt, one coming in the Big 12 just a year ago. One could argue that if RB Rushel Shell doesn't get hurt and Howard doesn't turn the ball over West Virginia MAYBE beats Oklahoma State and finishes with an 11-1 regular season record. We can play the "what if" game all day, but the record books will show West Virginia finished 2 games shy of running the table in 2016.
Last year was easily the best season we have had since joining the conference and I don't think anyone can argue that. The 2017 schedule is a little more demanding by having to go on the road for games against TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at the end of the year. As much as I hope we could go undefeated in conference play, it won't happen this year. For it to happen we will need the conference schedule that lands on even numbered years such as last year when we get those teams like TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all at home in Morgantown and even then it will be rather challenging.
Heading into the 2017 season I see four teams that have a chance to win the Big 12, that being: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State. To be quite honest I don't see any of them having a chance to do what the Sooners did last year. Oklahoma State appears to be the most well rounded team of the bunch, but they will drop a game possibly two. So you might ask what would it take for West Virginia to go 9-0 in Big 12 play?
Obviously there are five things that are a MUST.
- Take care of the football/Win turnover battle
- Stay Healthy on all 3 sides of the ball
- Run the ball effectively
- Depth across the board
- Get after it on defense
If we or any other team can do all five of these things, chances are you're going to be in pretty good shape. We had trouble taking care of the ball last year with interceptions and costly fumbles (especially against Oklahoma). Health was a major concern heading into the season losing Dravon Askew-Henry, Jaleel Fields, Xavier Pegues and Brendan Ferns with injuries in camp and then Yodny Cajuste going down in week one against Missouri. At the moment the only known injury is redshirt sophomore linebacker David Long which could be an issue. The running back group was terrific a year ago and I believe we will see similar production again this year from the three returning backs Crawford, McKoy and Pettaway. Depth was there last year on both sides of the ball and might be this teams achilles heel heading into 2017, the talent is there, it just needs to develop. Lastly the productivity we got from Tony Gibson's DAWGS in 2016 was everything you would hope for and then some. Many holes will need to be filled on that side of the ball, but I don't see much of a drop off if any from last years group.
Holgorsen could really put West Virginia on the map with an undefeated conference record so until we drop that first game, we have a shot!