The following is the third of a five-part series dealing with the West Virginia University Mountaineers' 2013 regular-season schedule. Part III deals with the team's middle three games in its new home-the Big 12 Conference.
MORGANTOWN-Should West Virginia somehow come out of the first third of its Big 12 slate of games unscathed, it's reward will be to take on three straight teams that not only defeated the Mountaineers, but outscored the old gold and blue by a combined 143-66 margin.
Saturday, Oct. 19 (TBA)
Then-No. 5 WVU found out the hard way what can happen when you have a bad day in the Big 12 Conference as the Red Raiders from Texas Tech gave their visitors a resounding 49-14 setback.
Senior quarterback Seth Doege threw for six touchdowns passes and the Red Raider defense harassed WVU's Geno Smith, who was every sports writers pick to win the Heisman Trophy after leading WVU to five straight victories. Smith completed 29-of-55 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown, but those numbers were far from the ones the third-year starter had produced during the Mountaineers' five-game winning streak.
Good news for fans of the old gold and blue is that Doege, who completed 380-of-541 attempts for 4,205 yards and 39 touchdowns, is gone as is Darren Moore, who hauled in three touchdown passes of 2, 29 and 7 yards.
Bad news is that leading rusher Kenny Williams, 143 carries for 824 yards and five touchdowns, returns as does senior Sadale Foster, who ended the first half of last year's meeting by bursting through the Mountaineer defense for a 53-yard score.
First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury will have six starters on offense back from last year's 8-5 (4-5 Big 12) squad, including three of four starters at wide receiver, Williams and two offensive linemen-left tackle Le'Raven Clark and right guard Beau Carpenter.
Looking to fill the shoes left by the departure of Doege will be sophomore Michael Brewer (34-of-48, 375 yards, 4 TDs), but he was locked in to a two-way battle with true freshman Davis Webb for the starting job following spring drills.
Whoever the starter is he will have a talented group of receivers, led by Ward (82-1,053, 12 TDs).
Defensively, the Red Raiders bring back nine starters from a unit consistently pressured Smith and got to West Virginia's explosive playmakers and got them to the ground whenever they had the football in space.
Six of the seven, however, finished spring drills battling it out for three positions. Seniors Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush were one-two in the depth chart at end while juniors Delvon Simmons and Jackson Richards were in a likewise battle at end. Finally, senior Sam Eguavoen and junior Will Smith will enter fall camp atop the depth chart at Will linebacker.
As bad as that loss was for many Mountaineer fans to stomach, WVU's next foe-Kansas State-dealt the old gold and blue a much more high-profiled setback last season.
At Kansas State
Saturday, Oct. 26 (TBA)
It was supposed to be a battle between two Top 20 football teams featuring two of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, but when it ended with a 55-14 victory by the Wildcats, it was Kansas State-led by senior quarterback Collin Klein-that placed itself in a position to capture the Big 12 and play for a national championship while WVU fans were left scratching their heads over the season "that-could-have-been."
Klein had touchdown runs of 1, 8, 1 and 1 yards and scoring throws of 10, 21 and 20 yards while the KSU defense limited Smith and Company to 243 yards on 62 offensive plays and picked off the Mountaineers' senior twice.
Gone is Klein, wide receiver Chris Harper, tight end Travis Tannahill and fullback Braden Wilson. But that does not mean the Wildcats will be without weapons when WVU travels to Manhattan.
Senior running back John Hubert returns after leading the team with 947 yards and 15 touchdowns on 189 carries while junior Tyler Lockett, who hauled in nine passes for 194 yards in last year's thumping, is back after catching 44 passes for 687 yards and four touchdowns.
More importantly, the entire front five-B.J. Finney, Cornelius Lucas, Tavon Rooks, Keenan Taylor and Cody Whitehair-will be in the trenches again in 2013. That does not mean all will be rosey for veteran head coach Bill Synder and his staff.
Question marks at quarterback and the loss of eight starters on defense set off signal warnings around the state of Kansas. Sophomore Daniel Sams was the only signal-caller in camp with any real game experience this spring, but that doesn't mean he will be the starter when WVU comes to town.
However, Snyder's propensity to find talent-especially from the junior college circuit-makes those losses somewhat mute and could find the Mountaineers heading to Texas Christian University during the first week of November still in search of a conference victory.
Saturday, Nov. 2 (TBA)
If there was one contest that Mountaineer fans could point to as an example of WVU's 2012 struggles, it was the double-overtime loss (39-38) to the Horned Frogs from Texas Christian University.
In a game both teams needed to win, TCU was able to make enough plays at the end of the game to snap its two-game losing streak and extend West Virginia's to three-the most the Mountaineers had lost since the end of the 2004 campaign.
After letting a 10-point, 24-14, lead slip through its hands, WVU took a 31-24 advantage on a 74-yard punt return by Tavon Austin with 3:19 left in the game and appeared to be poised to put the game away late when they took possession of the football at their own 47.
However, a three-and-out forced a Tyler Bitancurt punt, which the Horned Frogs gathered in at their own 15. A 9-yard sack by Josh Francis on first down had Mountaineer fans poised to celebrate a victory until a Trevone Boykin pass was hauled in by a wide open Josh Boyce for a 94-yard touchdown and a tie game with 88 seconds left.
WVU had one last chance to pull out the win, but Bitancurt's 55-yard field goal came up well short of its mark and sent the game into overtime where a controversial two-point pass from Boykin to Boyce gave the visitors the come-from-behind win.
Boykin returns after completing 154-of-263 attempts for 1,853 yards and 15 touchdowns. But he may not be the opening day starter as senior Casey Pachall returns after missing most of last season due to off-the-field-issues.
Also back will be wide receivers LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter as well as linemen Aviante Colins, Taylo Fabuluje and Eric Tausch. Defensively, all, but linebacker Kenny Cain and end Stansly Maponga return from a unit that limited the opposition to 22.6 points and 323.9 yards per outing.
Not exactly the encouraging news Mountaineer fans planning to make the trip Fort Worth (Texas) were looking to hear.