One of the biggest questions surrounding West Virginia's move to the Big 12 is whether the Mountaineers can compete immediately in a league that features Oklahoma and Texas.
Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders says yes. Fremeau lists West Virginia as one of his teams poised to take a big step next season (this is provided West Virginia competes in the Big 12 in 2012). Fremeau writes:
A move to the Big 12 will be challenging, as will a nonconference road trip in September to face the Florida State Seminoles. But the timing is good for West Virginia in its new conference since the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Baylor Bears will likely be taking a step back with the departure of key offensive weapons, and there's still a bit of uncertainty about the recovery and rebuild timeline for the Texas Longhorns.
There is plenty more in the post, but Fremeau notes that West Virginia will essentially return all of its skill players -- Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Dustin Garrison, who should all be better with another year in the system. I think West Virginia can be competitive, but there are some big questions for me:
1. The defense loses its best players in Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin, Keith Tandy and Najee Goode. Irvin, Tandy and Goode all made the Big East first-team. Miller should have been recognized as well. Also, does Jeff Casteel return as defensive coordinator? If yes, how will his unique stack defense fare against the wide-open Big 12 offenses?
2. Everybody else. No doubt some of the best in the Big 12 lose their best players. Oklahoma State will be without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon; Oklahoma loses Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and most likely Ronnell Lewis; Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III could be headed out of Baylor; Texas is in a state of flux. West Virginia should watch for TCU, which also returns the bulk of its team, and Kansas State, with Collin Klein back for another year.
Even if everything works out perfectly for West Virginia, it still will be hard to make a complete transition in Year 1 in a new conference. It helps that Dana Holgorsen has experience in the Big 12, but it's no slam dunk the Mountaineers will compete for a Big 12 championship.