Two off-seasons ago who knew we'd be sitting here talking about the Big 12 still existing, let alone being one of the strongest conferences in college football. Well, that was accomplished with the additions of West Virginia and TCU this summer. Sure they are replacing some decent schools in Missouri and Texas A&M, but both TCU and WVU have been relevant on the national scale for a good chunk of recent history as well.
So far we here at Crystal Ball Run have seaked answers to 5 Big Questions, Who's the Proudest Coach in America, and Will Charlie Weis Flop Again? But, here at Holding Court we've got one big question that hasn't been answered during our Big 12 Preview Week and our judge wants answers, Damn it!
The question in front of the court today: Is TCU or West Virginia better equipped to become contenders in year one of Big 12 play?
So, new guys... time to step up to face our court and state your case. Up first, the Mountaineers of West Virginia.
The Case for West Virginia:
Alright, first things first your honor... We're coming directly from another BCS automatic qualifying conference so us Mountaineers ain't scared of the big, bad Big 12. Ask Clemson what it's like to play us? I'm sure they'd love to tell you all about those 70 points we hung on them in the Orange Bowl last season.
We come to you as one of just five schools in the entire country with 8 or more wins in each of the past 10 seasons. (only Oklahoma from the Big 12 can say that, btw)
Not only that, but our team's profile from last season fits in so well with the Big 12. We were first in scoring offense in the Big East, averaging 37.6 points per game, which would've ranked us 5th overall in our new conference. Then our defense... it actually was pretty good by our new conference's standards, giving up a ton of points and ranking next to last in the Big East at 26.8 points per game, which would've ranked 5th in the Big 12.
I ask you this - What really helps win games in the Big 12? Oh, that's right... QB's. Well, we happen to have arguably the most dynamic QB out of all the teams in the conference in Geno Smith who did throw for a ridiculous 4,385 yards last season while leading an offense that ranked 15th nationally in total yards. (We all know how amazing Big 12 D's are at stopping teams from gaining yards too)
We've also been unafraid to step outside of the Big East and play AQ conference schools on an annual basis, so that fear factor isn't going to be there.
For my final point your honor, I bring up the fact that we return 13 starters, 7 of which are on the offensive side of the ball.
Cross Examination of West Virginia:
True, you are coming from the Big East and yes it was a BCS AQ league, but it didn't get the nickname of the the Big Least for nothing. It's not like you were talking about spanking around the SEC or winning the Big Ten here. This is the Big 12, one of the top three leagues in the country and it's a step up.
You are also coming into 2012 breaking in a brand spanking new defensive scheme in the 3-4, after working with the 3-3-5 scheme for years. That's not going to be an easy transition for a team built on completely different kinds of players in the previous system. Besides, your numbers from last season may have put you directly in the middle of the conference, but again West Virginia, you were doing it against competition that only had one offense rank in the top 30 in terms of scoring. The Big 12 had 5 teams rank inside the top 25, let alone the top 30 in scoring offense. So, I ask you, can a new defense step up their game against a much more high scoring schedule week in and week out?
Lastly, what about your record against those other BCS AQ schools? In the past 9 seasons it's just 15-10 and includes losses to LSU (3 times), Florida State (2 times), Wisconsin, Auburn and more. As for the 15 wins, well you can count on nearly half of them coming from your 7 victories over Maryland. Sure there are wins against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Auburn in there, but take the wins over Maryland out and your record stands at 8-10 since 2003, not exactly eye popping numbers if you ask me.
I rest my case....
The Case for TCU:
To be sure your honor, there is no doubting that we're taking a big step up in our week to week competition, but it's not like we haven't prepared ourselves for this, or don't have any history at the highest levels of competition. After all, we were members of this little conference known as the Southwestern Conference and before it went away it happened to be a pretty big deal in college football.
But it's the last ten years that we've really shown not only why we belong in the Big 12, but competing at the top of the conference with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State. Since 2001 our lowest wins total was 5 and happened back in 2004. We've won 11 games in 6 of the last 7 seasons as well as winning 6 bowl games in those same 7 seasons. Also, we hold a three game winning streak against teams ranked in the Top 5 in the country.
Our big gun? How about this: Our 16-4 record against AQ schools since 2003. I'd say that shows we're more than ready to compete. The four losses suffered are to Baylor (by 2 points last season), Oklahoma, Texas, and Cincinnati. During those nine seasons we have wins over Baylor (3), Stanford (2), Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and Oregon State. Oh, and do I need to remind the court that the win over Wisconsin came in the Rose Bowl? I don't know about you, but to me that seems like a pretty good resume for why we'd be well equipped to competing with the top of the conference right out of the gate.
But, if that's not enough for you, this team also sports an offense that's been as explosive as any in the Big 12. Last season we put up 40.9 points per game, which was 9th nationally and would've ranked 2nd in the conference. We also happen to play defense unlike anything the Big 12 has seen in some time, giving up just 21.5 points a game last year, which would've ranked 1st in the conference and more than on par with what Oklahoma and Texas do on an annual basis. Besides, that wasn't even our best defense. I'd put our 2010 defense up for evidence. You know... the one that LED the COUNTRY in scoring defense at 12.0 points a game and the one that was 5th against the run and 1st against the pass in the nation? Ya, that one.
Cross Examination of TCU:
I submit that the stats you sighted came against mainly Mountain West defenses and while the Big 12 may not be the best defensive conference in the country, the defenses aren't UNLV and New Mexico, so trying to replicate the numbers on a week in and week out basis is going to be a heck of a lot harder.
I'll also point out that 3 of the 4 losses you sighted were against top Big 12 teams at the time of the losses, that doesn't exactly point to easy transition to the top of the conference.
While it may be true the starters are clearly on point with anything you'd see from the top half of the Big 12, what about the folks behind those starters? You've been recruiting Mountain West level players for those kind of spots and it's a different animal when you are talking about being two or three deep at the Big 12 level.
THE FINAL VERDICT: Before rendering my decision I will say this: both teams are more than capable of being in the top half of the conference right out of the gate.
Having said that my ruling is in favor of West Virginia.
Why? The jump is a far smaller one for the Mountaineers than the Horned Frogs. For all of it's flaws, the Big East is flat out better from top to bottom than the Mountain West. There's no UNLV's or New Mexico's to kind of allow yourself a bit of a break in the Big East and there sure aren't any of those in the Big 12. That means the Mountaineers are a bit more used to having to give it everything every week and that grind won't wear on them as much as TCU.
Now, I will say this about TCU: If they don't have major injuries to the front line players then I'd take them, but counting on that happening is like counting on an off-season without an arrest at Georgia... It ain't gonna happen and for that the Horned Frogs lose out in this argument.