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The Times' college football countdown: No. 12 West Virginia

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The offensive-minded Big 12 welcomes the West Virginia Mountaineers, who return many key starters from a team that averaged 37.6 points last season.

August 18, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Geno Smith set the school's single-season record with 4,385 yards last season.
Geno Smith set the school's single-season record with 4,385 yards… (David Smith / Associated…)

The Big 12 is thrilled to welcome in West Virginia and is betting the Mountaineers fit like a cork in a jug.

The Big East demanded $20 million in early-exit fees from West Virginia as it reminded everyone the school's early nickname was "the Snakes."

Conference realignment has become a combat sport, but out of the Shenandoah Valley this too shall pass.

The Big East named a new commissioner this week as it tries to regain its bearings.

West Virginia hired a new travel agent as it readies for trips to Lubbock, Stillwater and Ames.

The Big 12 bought West Virginia stock at just the right time, with the Mountaineers coming off a 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

West Virginia brings its hyperactive offense to a conference that has been playing defense of late only because the rules require it.

Check out these final 2011 national Big 12 defensive rankings: Baylor (116), Iowa State (95), Kansas (120), Kansas State (72), Oklahoma State (107), Texas Tech (114) and Oklahoma (55).

A lot of those inflated numbers can be attributed to the spread of spread offenses and won't get better with West Virginia returning most key starters from a team that averaged 37.6 points per game.

Though the conference switch will require a time-zone adjustment, West Virginia's coaching staff is quite familiar with Big 12 territory.

Second-year Mountaineers Coach Dana Holgorsen spent the better part of a decade in the Big 12 as an assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

Holgorsen's new defensive coordinator, Joe DeForest, spent the last 10 years at Oklahoma State.

Yes, Holgorsen said, there will be longer trips, but this isn't NBA travel, either.

"It's going to be an airplane ride," Holgorsen said. "So you're going to jump on a plane and fly a couple of hours no mater where you go. From there it's just all about routine."

West Virginia has a chance to compete immediately.

The Big 12 lost a lot of firepower with the departures of NFL draft-pick quarterbacks Robert Griffin III (Baylor) and Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State). Missouri quarterback James Franklin left, along with the rest of his team, to the Southeastern Conference.

West Virginia senior Geno Smith should move right to the top shelf of Big 12 quarterbacks, coming off a year in which he set the school's single-season record with 4,385 yards.

Smith, you may recall, blistered LSU's vaunted secondary last year for 463 yards in defeat at Morgantown.

West Virginia also returns top receivers Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and most of the offensive line.

Defense?

Yes, the Mountaineers will have to play some, although Oklahoma State nearly got into the national title game last year with a unit that didn't crack the nation's top 100.

Oklahoma State countered the huge yardage giveaway with a plus-21 turnover margin, so look for new coordinator DeForest to try to bring that strip-the-ball mind-set to the Mountaineers defense.

The countdown so far: The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State; 15. Wisconsin; 14. Nebraska; 13. Arkansas; 12. West Virginia.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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