Boy time sure does fly, doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe, but we’ve now played five years of Big 12 football.
It seemed like just yesterday West Virginia was preparing for its first season of Big 12 gridiron play after roughly 20 years in the Big East.
If you recall, most of us back then weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into and Dana Holgorsen seemingly reminded us daily what the league was all about - more plays, more explosive playmakers and a lot more points, he said.
Then, the Baylor Bears came to town on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, and all hell broke loose. By the end of the first quarter the two teams had put up 28 points on the scoreboard and by halftime the total swelled to 70.
Sitting next to Wendell Barnhouse, who was covering the game for the Big 12 Digital Network, I asked him if every game in the Big 12 was like this.
He shrugged and replied, “Well, a lot of them.”
We learned that season that you must score points to keep up with these high-powered Big 12 offenses, and we also learned that we needed to get a whole lot better on defense if we wanted to keep our heads above water.
We thought a lot of those defensive issues were fixed when Oklahoma managed to score only 16 points in a nine-point Sooner win in the 2013 conference opener, but that notion went up in flames a few weeks later when Baylor scored just about every time it had the football in a 73-42 victory.
There were times the Bears were running plays, and West Virginia’s defensive coaches were still trying to get 11 players on the field to defend them.
Then, in 2014, Holgorsen settled on Tony Gibson as his defensive coordinator and that made a big difference. Instead of giving up an average of 43.3 points per game as it did in 2012, or 37.6 points per game as it did in 2013, Gibson’s WVU defense limited Big 12 offenses to just 27.1 points per contest in 2014.
Holgorsen also tweaked his offensive attack to better suit the players he was getting in the program at the time and by 2015, his teams were running the ball as much as they were throwing it.
In a 38-20 home victory over Texas in 2015, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers ran the ball 51 times for 257 yards and two touchdowns while attempting just 12 passes, completing 10, for 122 yards and two scores.
Keep in mind, this is a guy who once tried 76 passes in a game against Texas El-Paso when he was calling the plays at Houston.
The Holgorsen “Air Raid” was also grounded in a 49-0 win over Kansas when West Virginia rushed 55 times for 426 yards and five touchdowns. Three different players eclipsed 100 yards, including quarterback Skyler Howard with a team-best 129.
Last year, Holgorsen’s team put it all together to post an outstanding 7-2 mark in league play.
WVU managed to defeat Kansas State for the first time since joining the league when Jovon Durante
caught a seven-yard touchdown pass with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter to cap a big second-half comeback. The Mountaineers then had to hold their breath as Matthew McCrane’s 43-yard field goal to win the game sailed left of the goal post.
West Virginia was undefeated against the Big 12 teams from Texas, Iowa and Kansas, but was 0-2 against the ones from Oklahoma last season.
However, it was by far the Mountaineers’ best performance in league play primarily because they allowed the fewest points they had ever allowed - 217, for an average of 24.1 points per game. Take out the two losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and that number decreased significantly to 17.7 points per game.
Overall, after five seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia shows a 22-23 record against the rest of the conference; the Mountaineers are 12-11 at home and 10-12 on the road. WVU has defeated eight of the nine teams it has faced and has lost at least once to all nine in the league.
Oklahoma remains the only obstacle left for WVU to conquer.
If a 41-27 upset victory over fourth-ranked Baylor at Milan Puskar Stadium in 2014 is considered West Virginia’s high point since joining the league, the low moment came in 2013 when West Virginia lost at Kansas, 31-19, in what seemed like something right out of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of the Macabre.”
I can still recall sitting on the bus next to Chris Ferris, vice president of broadcasting for IMG, the two of us watching in wonderment as a group of about 50 Kansas students tried to drag the goal post up the hill toward the middle of campus to celebrate Charlie Weis’ only Big 12 victory with the Jayhawks.
The Mountaineers followed that poor performance up with an even poorer one at home when they let Iowa State come back and beat them in triple overtime, 52-44, to conclude a very disappointing 4-8 season.
Since then, though, West Virginia has won 25 of 38 games, defeated Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl and returned to the nation’s top 25 last season. Fifteen of the 45 games West Virginia has played in the Big 12 have been decided by a touchdown or less.
And then there is this: West Virginia has scored 1,450 points while its opponents have scored 1,445. That averages out to 32.2 points for and 32.1 points against.
Indeed, we’ve seen some great games, some great teams, some great players, some great coaches, and yes, many, many great performances over the last five years in the Big 12.
To commemorate our five seasons of Big 12 play, here are some fives worth noting:
Five Best WVU Big 12 Victories
1. 70-63 vs. Baylor, 2012
Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin put up X-Box numbers in this wild and wonderful Mountaineer victory.
2. 41-27 vs. Baylor, 2014
Tony Gibson’s defense stepped up and stymied Baylor’s potent offense in one of the best regular season wins in school history.
3. 30-21 vs. Oklahoma State, 2013
Clint Trickett’s gutsy performance at quarterback helped West Virginia stun the 11th-ranked Cowboys at Milan Puskar Stadium.
4. 48-45 vs. Texas, 2012
Andrew Buie’s five-yard touchdown run with 1:18 left helped WVU achieve a 48-45 victory over 11th-ranked Texas, sending a raucous record crowd of 101,851 home disappointed.
5. 17-16 vs. Kansas State, 2016
West Virginia overcame a 14 point second-half deficit and then had to hold on for dear life to earn its first-ever victory against legendary Wildcat coach Bill Snyder.
Five Best Individual WVU Big 12 Performances
1. Tavon Austin vs. Oklahoma, 2012
Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman said it best when he wrote that Tavon Austin’s 33-touch, 572-yard performance against 13th-ranked Oklahoma was the best individual performance anyone had seen from his part of the country since Gale Sayers was playing at Kansas in the early-1960s. And most of it came from the running back position where Dana Holgorsen put him, to the complete surprise of the Sooner defense. Austin's 572 all-purpose yards nearly eclipsed an NCAA record.
2. Geno Smith vs. Baylor, 2012
Geno Smith completed an unbelievable 45-of-51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception in a 70-63 victory over 25th-ranked Baylor. His TD passes covered distances of seven, 47, 20, two, 45, 52, 87 and 39 yards in one of the greatest individual passing performances in NCAA history. Smith also ran five times for 31 yards, accounting for 687 yards of total offense. Enough said.
3. Stedman Bailey vs. Baylor, 2012
Geno Smith’s top pass catching target snared 13 aerials for a school-record 303 yards and five touchdowns in his personal duel with Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams. Of Stedman Bailey's five touchdown catches, three were from distances of more than 39 yards, one going for 87 yards late in the second half. His 303 yards receiving are still a WVU single-game record.
4. Clint Trickett vs. Baylor, 2014
West Virginia’s gutsy quarterback Clint Trickett completed 23-of-35 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-27 upset victory over fourth-ranked Baylor at Milan Puskar Stadium. Two of his three touchdown tosses came in the fourth quarter to Kevin White and Mario Alford to snap a 27-all tie at the end of the third quarter. The victory ranks among the all-time best in the 37-year history of Milan Puskar Stadium.
5. Tavon Austin vs. Baylor, 2012
Lost in Stedman Bailey’s record-setting performance against an overmatched Baylor pass defense was Tavon Austin’s 14-catch, 215-yard, two-touchdown effort in a supporting role in West Virginia's 70-63 shootout against Baylor. That bears repeating ... in a supporting role.
Five Best Opposing Big 12 Teams
1. 2014 TCU, 12-1
The Horned Frogs lost only once in 2014, 61-58 at Baylor, and missed out on a chance to play in the inaugural college football playoff. Then, TCU took its frustrations out on Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, 42-3.
3. 2015 Oklahoma, 11-2
The 2015 Sooners were the only Big 12 team to qualify for the college football playoff, losing, 37-17, to Clemson in a national semifinal game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
3. 2013 Oklahoma, 11-2
Oklahoma recovered from two disappointing regular-season road losses at Texas and Baylor to upset third-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 45-31.
4. 2015 TCU, 11-2
Late-season slip ups at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma may have eliminated TCU from the college football playoff picture, but the Horned Frogs rebounded to outlast Oregon, 47-41, in the Alamo Bowl in one of the most exciting games of the 2015 season.
5. 2012 Kansas State, 11-2
The Wildcats were in the national title hunt until week 11 when Baylor ended Bill Snyder’s national title aspirations. K-State’s 55-14 victory over WVU at Milan Puskar Stadium remains one of the most dominating performances put forth by any opponent in the 37-year-old facility.
Five Best Opposing Big 12 Players
1. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
This guy caused more damage to Dana Holgorsen’s hair line than any other player West Virginia has faced since it joined the Big 12 in 2012. Wide receiver Tyler Lockett’s career numbers versus WVU: 27 catches for 501 yards and five touchdowns with 235 additional yards and a score in returns in three K-State victories. Ouch. What this guy did ranks with Tony Dorsett, Floyd Little, Ernie Davis, John Cappelletti and some of the all-time great performances ever against WVU. What else can you say about him?
2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Trevone Boykin won all three times he faced West Virginia as TCU’s starting quarterback and the one time he didn’t start at quarterback, the Horned Frogs lost in overtime. Still, he managed to catch 11 passes for 100 yards in that game as a starting wide receiver. After one play against the Mountaineers in 2015, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was so impressed with Boykin’s elusiveness that he gave him a high five after he ran out of bounds along the Mountaineer sideline. That’s the ultimate sign of respect.
3. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma
Although he wasn’t very big, Eric Striker came off the edge like a bullet and his havoc-wreaking playing style against WVU amounted to 26 tackles, six tackles for losses and three sacks, including one strip-sack of Skyler Howard that resulted in a tide-turning touchdown in Oklahoma’s 44-24 victory over the Mountaineers in 2015. Striker played a big role in three conesutive Oklahoma victories over West Virginia.
4. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Remember that guy standing all alone down the middle of the field seemingly every time Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege dropped back to pass? That was tight end Jace Amaro, who caught five passes for 156 yards and a touchdown against WVU in 2012, and then almost duplicated those numbers by snaring nine passes from Davis Webb for 136 yards and two scores a year later in Morgantown - both Texas Tech wins. Some of it was poor WVU defense, of course, but a lot of it was Amaro's abilities as a dynamic pass-catching tight end.
5. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
This homecoming wrecker produced eight tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles - one he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown - to help Oklahoma State to a 33-26 overtime victory. Emmanuel Ogbah, who has since taken his pass rushing talents to the NFL playing for the Cleveland Browns, also had a sack and a forced fumble in the Cowboys’ home loss to the Mountaineers in 2014.
So, what will the next five years in the Big 12 bring for Mountaineer football fans?
* This story was updated to accuratetely reflect WVU's Big 12 record of 22-23.