Look for a 7-5 season

EDITOR’S NOTE: Parkersburg attorney Blaine Myers begins his 26th season as a Monday Morning Quarterback for West Virginia University’s football season.

Expectations can be misleading. In football, we fans tend to place too much emphasis on a win-loss record the previous season and on the outcome of one or two particular games. But sometimes the difference between a win and a loss is so narrow that the ultimate outcome isn’t an accurate barometer of a team’s overall quality.

Entering last season, Mountaineer fans were looking forward to an exciting inaugural season in the Big 12 after a blowout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl at the end of 2011. But that overwhelming victory in a single game helped us forget that to get there West Virginia had to engineer four second-half comebacks for narrow victories in conference games and then wait for several other league contests to go the right way. Take away a blocked field goal in Cincinnati or a lost fumble by South Florida late in the fourth quarter of a tie game and the Mountaineers could have been an ordinary 7-5 team.

Which, in 2012, is what WVU became. And now after losing three outstanding offensive players to the NFL, many WVU fans foresee a losing season in 2013.

But before we throw in the towel before a game is played, we should not forget that two narrow losses last season occurred on a two-point conversion by TCU in double overtime and a game-winning touchdown on fourth by Oklahoma in the waning seconds. So of the nearly 2,000 snaps in an entire football season, just two plays spelled the difference between an ordinary 7-5 season and a much more palatable 9-3 record.

My point here is that the 2011 version of the Mountaineers wasn’t quite as good as we may have thought, and the 2012 team wasn’t quite as bad as the final record reflected.

Clearly, the West Virginia offense will not be as prolific this season. A team can’t lose Tavon Austin, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey and achieve the same level of success. But whatever decline may occur could be offset by better quality play on special teams and defense.

The kicking game is an often-overlooked component of a team’s success or failure. Last season, the WVU punting game was atrocious and placekicking mediocre. In close games, such failures can spell the difference. A missed extra point may have sealed the Oklahoma loss.

And on defense? If the Mountaineers simply can upgrade to just being bad, things could get much better. No, that isn’t a misprint. The 2012 WVU defense was horrendous, yielding more than 38 points and an average of 313 passing yards per game. The 38 TD passes WVU surrendered was the most in major college football.

Yet, there is a silver lining as 1,976 of the passing yards against WVU’s defense last season were accomplished by four QBs the Mountaineers won’t face. Thank goodness.

To achieve a winning season, West Virginia must win its game at Baltimore against Maryland and prevail in at least one Big 12 Conference game it is expected to lose. Both reasonably can be achieved, so I’ll land on the optimistic side of the fence and predict a 7-5 record in 2013.

This Saturday: Most major college teams now schedule one game against an FCS opponent and the Mountaineers are no exception as William & Mary comes to Morgantown to open the season. William might give WVU trouble for a while, but it can handle Mary. WVU 35, William & Mary 17.