West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen has produced impressive offensive numbers at every school he has coached. He hasn't needed much time to teach his offense to new players either.
There is talent on the Mountaineer offense this season. Still. Many fans of the “Old Gold and Blue” believe that talent is too new to count on this season. The thought being Holgorsen has not had enough time to teach and the players enough time to practice for the offense to be a typical Holgorsen creation.
What of the Big-12 defenses that Holgorsen and his young offense will face, are there any with the pedigree to fulfill those fears?
The Baylor Bears return seven starters from last year's defense that finished the season ranked 119 in the FBS for total defense. Phil Bennett is in his second season as the defensive coordinator for the Bears. With seven returning starters and a recruiting class ranked 11 by Scout the Bears will show improvement from last season. That improvement won't be enough to shut down the Mountaineer offense.
Iowa state returns four starters from last year's defense that ranked 95 for total defense. The highest ranking the Cyclones defense has posted in the last five years is 87. Iowa State will struggle this season, as they did last season, to stop the WVU attack.
Kansas also returns four starters from last season's 113 ranked unit. Head coach Charlie Weis only returns 35 Letterman for the entire team. There is more work to be done in Lawrence than one off-season can cure.
Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats have a reputation for hard-nosed football that is well earned. The Wildcats only return two starters on a defense ranked 45 last year. Snyder has his program in place and was able to shutdown the Mountaineer offense last season. Snyder's defense could repeat that performance again this season.
With only two returning starters the Wildcat defense could be vulnerable. In 2010 Holgorsen's offense at Oklahoma State finished the season ranked third for total offense. Against Snyder and his defense that year the Cowboys won the game but only scored 24-points. In his last two games against a Bill Snyder defense Holgorsen's offense has struggled to score points.
Oklahoma returns four starters on defense and finished last season ranked 64 for total defense. The Sooners replace their long time defensive line coach and changed their base alignment from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Oklahoma's defense is not what it once was and has struggled to contain a Holgorsen offense, repeatedly.
Last season the Mountaineers scored 49 and in 2010 Holgorsen's Cowboys scored 47. Oklahoma's defense has not been ranked in the top-50 for total defense in three seasons. The question is are they finally going to snap that streak, or will it continue.
Holgorsen seems to have Stoops' number and if not for a complete breakdown of his own defense last season would be undefeated. These two teams are more evenly matched than most believe. If it comes down to which offense has the ball last, I like Holgorsen's track record.
Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy has got to be tired of replacing offensive coordinators. Since the 2010 season he has had three different new offensive coordinators. This year Mike Yurcich is the new Cowboy offensive coordinator.
On defense, Gundy has a new defensive coordinator too in last year's linebacker coach Glenn Spencer.
Last season the Oklahoma State defense was ranked 80 for total defense. That ranking followed a 107 and an 88. The Cowboys score points but struggle to keep other teams from scoring points too.
Spencer has seven starters back from last season. Since the 2007 season the Cowboy defense has been ranked in the top-50 once, in 2009 they finished 31. In the other five seasons the highest ranking Oklahoma State's defense could muster was last season.
Texas Christian University head football coach Gary Patterson doesn't rebuild defenses he reloads. The Horned Frogs defense fell to 16 for total defense last season. Believe it or not that is a bad ranking for a Patterson defense. When you factor in all the injuries and the players suspended from the defense last season it boggles the mind.
From 2008 thru the 2010 season the TCU defense finished those three seasons as the number one defense in the FBS. Patterson is the anti-Holgorsen. In their first ever match-up last season Patterson got the best of Holgorsen, but it was a Holgorsen type of game.
Since 2007 TCU has only allowed three teams to score more points than WVU last year. One of those teams was Texas Tech two weeks before WVU. All those injuries and suspensions took their toll in October and the first week of November last season.
TCU has the pedigree and returns nine starters from the defense last year. This game could actually turn into a defensive struggle. Remember it was TCU last season that held Baylor to 21-points. I grudgingly pick TCU to win the Big-12 this season. They have the most experienced Quarterback returning and the best defense in the league.
Texas Longhorn head coach Mack Brown is feeling the heat in Austin, but it's not the weather. Brown is 11-15 in his last three season in the Big-12. Texas is expected to win Big-12 titles, three years is an eternity to the Longhorn faithful.
Brown's defensive coordinator Manny Diaz returns nine starters from last year's unit. The year prior to Diaz taking the reigns of the Texas defense, 2010, they finished the season in the top-10 at number six for total defense. In 2011 they finished 11 and last year they finished 67. Another nail in Brown's proverbial coffin.
Despite all the pressure, Diaz has talent on the Longhorn roster the question remains if Diaz is the coach to get that talent to translate into performance. By the time they get to Morgantown on November 9, the defense will have provided the answer. Holgorsen finds a way to outscore the Longhorns for the second season in a row.
Kliff Kingsbury replaced Tommy Tuberville as head football coach at Texas Tech. To the dismay of many, Tuberville left Lubbock for Cincinnati; trading sage brush for stalks of corn. Kingsbury is the second youngest head coach in the FBS behind Matt Campbell of Toledo. This will be his first season as a head coach.
Kingsbury is a former Red Raider star quarterback and was a Heisman candidate in 2002. He was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M last season, and is widely believed to be the real reason Johnny “Football” Manziel won the Heisman. Kingsbury is also thought to be an offensive guru in the mold of Holgorsen.
Expectations are high that Kingsbury will be able to produce immediately for Texas Tech. When Kingbury brings his Red Raiders to Morgantown in early October he might want to ask Holgorsen about first year expectations in the Big-12.
The Red Raiders return eight starters from last season's 38 ranked unit for total defense. The question is whether new defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt can maintain the improvement the Red Raiders have shown recently.
In 2011, and 2010, the Texas Tech defense was ranked 114 in total defense. In the Big-12 the trip from the Big House to the outhouse is a short walk. With an entirely new staff the Red Raiders may need at least one season for Kingsbury to live up to all those expectations.
Essentially, Holgorsen and his offense will face two formidable defenses for certain, with possibly two more that could present serious problems. The remaining defenses in the Big-12 are in some form of rebuilding mode in 2013.
Holgorsen might not say it publicly, but I have a hunch there are times he sits back in his office, chugs a Red-Bull, and looks at the 2013 schedule with that trademark smirk.