MORGANTOWN-What is the most often asked question around the water coolers and in homes throughout the Mountain State?
Sports fans from Bluefield to Chester and Martinsburg to Parkersburg want to know how the No. 11 ranked Mountaineers will do in their inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference.
The answer to that query, however, won't truly be known until the old gold and blue tangle with the Jayhawks from Kansas in their final regular season contest of the year. But, that hasn't stopped the predictions.
So, just how well will the 2012 edition do? Well, let's take a game-by-game look at West Virginia's upcoming schedule.
First, it would be hard to believe that WVU will be anything but 3-0 after the non-conference portion of its season. Season-opening opponent Marshall University has never beaten "its big brother in the north" and it is hard to believe that trend will change in the final edition of the Friends of Coal Bowl unless Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday can find a way to keep Geno Smith and company off of the artificial surface at Milan Puskar Stadium.
After an open week second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen takes his troops to Landover, Md., to take on James Madison at FedEx Field. The only time these two programs have met ended with the Mountaineers coming out on top by a 45-10 score. This meeting won't be that close.
AP Top 25 FBC Poll
By The Associated Press
The Top 25 teams in The Associated Press preseason college football poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, final 2011 records, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote, and 2011 final ranking:
1. Southern Cal (25)10-21,4456
2. Alabama (17)12-11,4111
3. LSU (16)13-11,4022
4. Oklahoma (1)10-31,28616
7. Florida St.9-41,09323
8. Michigan (1)11-21,00012
9. South Carolina11-29949
11. West Virginia10-385617
13. Michigan St.11-374211
16. Virginia Tech11-354821
18. Ohio St.6-7474NR
19. Oklahoma St.12-14303
22. Kansas St.10-330015
24. Boise St.12-12128
Others receiving votes: Notre Dame 83, Washington 55, Auburn 53, North Carolina 32, Utah 30, Georgia Tech 25, BYU 22, Tennessee 15, South Florida 11, Baylor 9, Texas A&M 5, UCF 4, Cincinnati 3, Missouri 3, N.C. State 3, Houston 1, Louisiana Tech 1, Mississippi St. 1, N. Illinois 1.
Rounding out the non-conference portion will be a home encounter with border state rival Maryland. If anything, last year's 37-31 victory was exciting, but WVU went on to win 10 games while the Terrapins dropped all but two of their 12 contests.
Seven days later Mountaineer fans will begin to discover the answer to the question-Can WVU win the Big 12-as the Baylor Bears pay their first visit to Morgantown. If it can stay healthy, WVU's offense can put up a bunch of points on any team it plays while Baylor not only lost Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, but the team's top rusher.
What should be WVU's biggest test to date, however, occurs on Oct. 6, when the old gold and blue travel to Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, to take on Mack Brown's Longhorns.
Ask any Mountaineer player the venue he most looks forward to playing at and the answer would be Texas.
The Longhorns may be coming off of a subpar 8-5 mark a year ago, but these are still the Longhorns, this is still Texas and you can bet anything less than an "A" game effort from WVU will result in the team suffering its first loss of the season.
Which would make the next week's trip to Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas, a must-win scenario if the preseason prognosticators' selection of the Mountaineers as the Big 12's second best team is to come true.
Back-to-back losses, with a home encounter with preseason favorite Oklahoma still looming on the schedule, would make nearly impossible for WVU to live up to its preseason billing.
But, this Raiders team has struggled to keep opponents from scoring and that can't be good news when you are facing the likes of Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, et al.
After spending two weekends in the Lone Star State, West Virginia returns home to face a Kansas State team coming off of a 10-3 season, that included a victory in the Cotton Bowl. But, this game will be at Mountaineer Field and if it is against a WVU team coming off of two straight losses and facing an early elimination from the conference race, it would be hard to believe that the Wildcats can make three.
Holgorsen and his team get a well-deserved open weekend, but the reward is a possible showdown with TCU for the league's top spot on the first Saturday in November.
Like West Virginia, the Horned Frogs, who left the Big East before ever playing a game, have thrown their lot in with the Big 12 and have been anointed as a "Dark Horse" to make a run for the conference crown.
Two high-powered offenses combined with a couple of average defenses could produce a game much like WVU's triple-overtime victory over Louisville (46-44) in 2005. The only other meeting between the two programs ended with a 31-14 victory by WVU (1984) and the odds makers in Las Vegas have made the Mountaineers a solid favorite to be 2-0 against TCU.
Game No. 8 will be a homecoming for Holgorsen as he leads his Mountaineers into Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma, to face the team he left-Oklahoma State.
Both teams pack solid offensive attacks, headlined by players who will be playing on Sundays sometime in the very near future. The atmosphere will be crazy, the intensity will be high and the defending Big 12 champion Cowboys won't ride into the sunset peacefully.
And, then, comes the "Game of the Year" according to the preseason Big 12 poll-No. 1 Oklahoma against No. 2 WVU.
Every expert to date has the Sooners as the "team to beat" in the conference. It's not hard to understand why, either. The Sooners return a probable first round NFL draft choice in senior quarterback Landry Jones and a ton of other talented players. But, the last two times a heavily-favored Oklahoma team tangled with the Mountaineers it came out on the wrong side of a 41-27 at home in 1982 and a 48-28 loss in the Fiesta Bowl in 2008.
West Virginia's final road game of the year finds the old gold and blue heading to Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The Cyclones possess one of the best linebacking tandems in the country, but even that may not be enough to stop West Virginia. The Mountaineers' passing attack is designed to take advantage of a defense's weaknesses.
ISU went 6-7 overall and 3-6 in Big 12 play for a reason. Even on the road West Virginia will be a heavy favorite and there is no reason to disagree with that assessment.
First-year head coach Charlie Weis brings his Kansas Jayhawks to Mountaineer Field for "Senior Day".
The former-Notre Dame head coach inherited a program that went winless (0-9) in Big 12 action a year ago and surrendered points at an astounding rate. The Jayhawks will be facing a senior class that includes Smith, Austin and former-Parkersburg High standout Josh Jenkins. Expect the Mountaineers to end the regular season with a win and then wait to see in which bowl they will be playing over the following months.
Depending upon which analyst you read, and trust, West Virginia could be playing in the National Championship game in mid-January, or in a BCS game, or in a pre-New Year's Day bowl.
But, which one, is anybody's guess.