After Dana Holgorsen was promoted to head coach last Friday night, the most popular question I have gotten is this: Is West Virginia still one of the favorites to win the Big East?
My answer is yes. But, I also believe this league is as wide open as always, and the wild-card coaching situation in West Virginia just adds to the unpredictability. Beginning today, I'm looking at the chances all eight teams have of winning the league title. Six of the eight teams have won at least a share of the championship in the past six years. Only Rutgers and USF have not, though both have been in the mix at various points in time.
First up: West Virginia.
Why the Mountaineers will win the league title
1. They are going to have the most dynamic offense. All you need to look at is what Holgorsen did at his previous stops. Oklahoma State averaged 44.2 points and 520 yards last season, both good enough to rank No. 3 in the nation. Three of the past six quarterbacks he coached had 5,000 total yards. There is plenty of talent in West Virginia, with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin teaming up to be one of the best duos in the league. If Holgorsen has the same success on offense at West Virginia as he has had in his past, the Mountaineers will be in good shape.
2. Smith is going to be Offensive Player of the Year. This may sound redundant, but Smith is in line to have a terrific season, and could be one of the only Big East candidates for the Heisman (as a dark horse). Smith threw for 2,763 yards last season, the school's second-highest single-season passing mark since Marc Bulger in 1998, but he also played on a broken foot. Imagine what he can do now that he is going to be completely healthy and in a quarterback-friendly system.
3. The D-line will make up for inexperience on defense. Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin return to anchor the defensive line and will be able to limit some of the shortcomings the Mountaineers might have elsewhere. If those two can produce an even better year than 2010, when they combined for 23 sacks, they can help West Virginia dominate the line of scrimmage and taking the pressure off the rest of the defense.
Why the Mountaineers won't win the league title
1. Not enough on defense. West Virginia returns just four starters and lost some good players in Chris Neild, Scooter Berry, J.T. Thomas, Anthony Leonard and Robert Sands. In fact, three of the team's top four leading tacklers are gone. Losing that much talent could end up hurting West Virginia, especially if the defense is forced to be on the field longer because Holgorsen's offense scores in a blink.
2. Special teams. It's no secret that Tyler Bitancurt struggled last season, missing his final four kicks and making just 10 of 17 attempts. His spring was not exactly stellar, either. Granted, he is working with a new holder, but Bitancurt is going to have to get better and fast, especially when you consider the potential for him to win or lose games.
3. Holgorsen too green. This is the biggest intangible of all. How will Holgorsen handle his first job as a head coach? There have been plenty of examples of coordinators failing to live up to outsized expectations (Charlie Weis?). Unfortunately for Holgorsen, the pressure is going to be on him to win immediately. We have no idea what type of game manager he is, what type of risk taker he is (go for it or not on fourth down in a critical situation?), what type of head coach he is. Teams take on the persona of their head coaches, so it will be fun to watch just how the Mountaineers are prepared to handle this season.