Despite the more difficult sledding we've found the last three games, we are absolutely thrilled to be out of the Big East. Now, don't get me wrong, it's strange to not play Rutgers or Syracuse for the first time in a long time, and it's a shame the Backyard Brawl rivalry with Pitt had to end. And it kind of sucks to be on an island out here where we can't drive to road games quite as easily. But it's a heck of a lot more fun playing primetime games against ranked teams that most of the college football world knows and respects. Having to defend your conference schedule and treating every loss as a soul-crushing upset gets old after a while. Clearly we have some catching up to do competitively and it may take some time for our fans to re-adjust our expectations, but things in the Big 12 couldn't look better to most of our fans.
As for a budding rivalry, I think it's going to take some time before we know. I lump us in with you guys, Texas Tech, K-State and TCU (and maybe to a lesser extent Iowa State and Baylor) when it comes to the size and passion of our fan bases, so I could see something sparking up with any one of those schools. Rivalries seem to take time to develop when schools play a series of great games with a lot at stake. That kind of happened with WVU and Louisville when the Cardinals first joined the Big East, and I could see the same thing transpiring in the Big 12, I just don't know with whom yet.
2. Picked to win the Big 12...Geno Smith, Heisman favorite. Things seem to have changed a little. Did something happen along the way, or were the 'Neers overrated a bit after that incredible demolition of Clemson last season?
I think it's a little of both. Most of our fans picked us to lose 2-3 games, so it's not like we were thinking national title coming into the season. Even at 5-0 and coming off that big win at Texas, most of us figured we were overrated and deep down knew our defense would cost us a game or two somewhere. Then again, nobody saw the offense dressing up as Houdini and doing a disappearing act for the Texas Tech, K-State and TCU games either. That's been the most frustrating part, and there don't seem to be many good explanations for basically 3 straight games of bizzaro-fense. I think we're all just hoping things magically correct themselves and we go back to scoring 40+ points a game. If not, we'll be finishing the season at home against Kansas playing for bowl eligibility.
3. Boatloads of scoring against Baylor and Texas...not so much against Tech and Kansas State. Two weeks off, and they got back in the saddle a bit while losing a tough game to TCU. Who's the real West Virginia offense?
I kind of touched on that above, but I wouldn't even say we looked anywhere close to right against TCU. Of 31 points in regulation, 7 came via a Tavon Austin punt return TD and 7 came on a 9 yard drive after a fumbled punt. That leaves 17 points, and even those two touchdowns were the result of great individual efforts by Austin and JD Woods, not by Geno completing a series of quality passes. You can tell just by watching that something is off. The running game (or lack thereof) is obviously part of the problem, as defenses are stopping the run and getting pressure with 4 and sometimes just 3, allowing them to drop 7 and 8 guys into coverage. Then, Geno is just not as crisp as he was earlier in the year, often missing open receivers and not putting the ball in position for them to run after the catch. Then some of the wideouts have come down with a case of the drops, which never helps either. Your guess is as good as mine as to why that happens. The real offense is probably somewhere in between the Baylor and K-State versions, but you never see it. You just see the highs and the lows. I guess we can take heart in the fact that the Clemson rout seemed to come out of nowhere least year, so maybe there's still hope for this group.
4. The defensive unit has struggled under Joe eForest and Keith Patterson. Where do you lean on this...more on the coaches, or they just need time to recruit?
Nobody is confusing WVU's talent on defense with the guys LSU and Alabama bring in, but they're not as bad as they've looked either. Yes, we're facing a lot of great offenses this year and yes, we're running a new scheme. But look at Texas Tech - they went from putrid to more than solid and all it took was a coaching change. I don't care what scheme you run, if you're a good coach, you put your guys in the best position to be successful and you prompt improvement over the course of the year. Up until the TCU game, that wasn't happening. TCU is no offensive juggernaut, but I liked what I saw from the defense this last game. Well, except for one play. But they finally got some pressure on the quarterback, made a few plays in coverage, created turnovers, and actually hit people. I hope they continue to at least play to a level where the offense feels like it doesn't have to score a touchdown on every single possession just to stay in the game. That being said, it won't hurt to bring in some better talent too.
5. The Mountaineer is such a great addition to the Big 12 mascot team...we have critters and the people who shoot them (except for Iowa State). Who is your favorite mascot and why?
I'm going to assume you mean other than the Mountaineer, or else you're just wasting my time. The Big East mascots were pretty cool, actually, and our friend Sean Keeley over at the SB Nation Syracuse blog (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician) did a great job of capturing their unique personalities in his Octonion series. But as for the Big 12 crew...Pistol Pete just creeps me out, Bevo is overplayed, I'm not even sure what the Sooner Schooner is all about, Texas Tech has both Zorro and Yosemite Sam, the K-State Wildcat is kind of like a feline pedo-bear, Baylor and Iowa State both have somewhat innocuous mascots, and the Jayhawk is goofy looking. So I guess that leaves the TCU Horned Frog, who looks like he evolved from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. And I used to love me some TMNT. Although, you have to admit it would be way cooler if they had a real horned frog they carted around in a tiny cage instead.
6. Last but not least...Cowboy Nation is new to this "couch burning" thing, so we need some pointers. What is the basic requirement for holding a couch burning? Is alcohol required? (If not, you can stop there. We don't want to be involved.) Are animal or human sacrifices required? Is there a particular "insider" tip on couch burning that you can share?
Listen, the art of couch burning is guarded more closely than some nuclear launch codes. Not just anyone has the pyromaniacal fortitude to engage in the celebratory torching of perfectly good living room furniture after a huge win. Our friends up in Ames seem to be catching on, and we may end up swapping schematics over a couple jars of moonshine when we travel west over Thanksgiving. But we don't just tell people how it's done. It's kind of like the formula for Coca-Cola. Everybody kind of knows what goes into it - big wins, night games, copious amounts of free flowing alcohol (both for consumption and for use as an accelerant), large groups of students, and of course, kindling. But the proper combination of those elements and any secret ingredients, well...you'll have to figure that out for yourself. Just rest assured no couches will be burnt in Morgantown this Saturday, regardless of the result (35-31 WVU, by the way). Go 'Eers!
So, OSU fans, let us reflect on question #5.
Current WV mascot is...
Here's a previous version...
Now THIS is a version most of us could get behind...and also keeps good company...