College Football Handicapping: West Virginia
by Trevor Whenham - 10/17/2012
West Virginia has been one of the most unbalanced teams in the country — an elite offense paired with an incompetent defense. Up until this past week it didn’t seem to matter. Texas Tech had a program-defining day, though, and the Mountaineers proved no match for them. It was a massacre. Now bettors are left with a big puzzle when it comes to how to deal with this West Virginia team. Was that loss just a blip on the march to greatness, or was the team exposed? Are they going to bounce back strong, or was that a fatal blow for the program?
Here are five factors to consider when you ponder those questions about the Mountaineers:
You can’t have any discussion about this team without starting with their defense. It is almost incomprehensible that a major conference team could be this inept defensively — at least one that has aspirations of being elite.
They rank 112th or worse in the country in three key stats — points allowed (112th), total yards (117th) and passing yards (122nd). They are just plain bad.
Former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left town this year to follow former boss Rich Rodriguez to Arizona. In his place they named co-defensive coordinators, and this is yet another example to prove that having two coordinators is almost always the equivalent of having none. They are just plain awful.
I was very skeptical of this team from the start because of the defense, and I am even more skeptical now. The defense has shown itself to be totally incapable of stopping any team. That puts huge pressure on the offense to perform each and every time it has the ball, while at the same time limiting the time the offense gets to perform with the ball. It’s unsustainable for a team to be this bad on defense, and this shockingly unbalanced, over the course of the season.
Of all the conferences for them to try to get away with it, too, the Big 12 is close to the worst because offensive explosiveness is so highly valued. Barring a miracle last week was not the only time that the defense will drag this squad down.
You never really know what a team is like unless you spend time around it. The Mountaineers, though, feel like one of the cockiest teams I can remember.
They were making a massive leap from the Big East to the Big 12 this year, yet they gave off the sense that they were doing the Big 12 a favor by joining the conference. They seemed to expect to win every game, and win handily.
When things started going poorly in Lubbock that cockiness evaporated and they were left with nothing. They should have been able to rally and show some killer instinct, but they just plain quit. It was so bad that after the game the coach and the players couldn’t even agree on what excuses they were going to use to explain the performance. It’s hard to be cocky when you have been humiliated.
This team will have to show a toughness and tenacity that was sorely lacking last week in order to bounce back strong from this one and reach its full potential. Despite the crushing setback the Mountaineers can still win the Big 12, but they can’t afford another embarrassment like last week, and plenty of opportunities still exist on their schedule.
It’s hard to be too negative about a guy who has thrown 25 touchdown passes without an interception. Still, you can’t help but be a little concerned when a guy is asked to shoulder such a tremendous burden for a team.
He has to score every time he gets the ball or the team could fall behind. His production has fallen in the last two games, and you have to think that that pressure is part of that.
Right now he is still in command of the Heisman Trophy race. If he beats Kansas State this week and plays well then he will be the presumptive winner and the pressure and scrutiny will be like nothing he has ever imagined.
He seems like a guy who can handle it, but it is certainly something to keep a very close eye on.
The schedule right now is the best and worst thing that could happen to this team.
On one hand, they come off a brutal loss and face a very tough challenge in fourth-ranked Kansas State. On the other hand, with a strong win at home in that one the Texas Tech loss will just be a bad, distant memory.
They are on a very big stage this week. Of course, the higher the pedestal the further you can fall, so a second poor performance could be fatal — for both Heisman and postseason dreams.
Things don’t get any easier after that, as following a week off after Kansas State they play TCU, at Oklahoma State, and at home against Oklahoma in consecutive weeks. Simply put, their defense as it sits now is not good enough to win all four of those games.
Welcome to the Big 12, West Virginia.
A team’s performance against the spread can be a good indication of whether they live up to their hype. On that front the Mountaineers are a failure. They are just 1-4 ATS in their last five, and they are just 1-4 ATS this year as a favorite. Obviously, the problem is that the defense can’t shut down opponents enough to cover spreads. Given that the situation is not likely to change it’s sound to be cautious in betting on this team going forward — at least until the Mountaineers have proven that they have evolved.
The line movement in this week’s upcoming game is interesting. The action is basically even, with just a slight edge for Kansas State. Despite that the line has made a strong move down from as high as four points when it opened to 2.5 now. Whenever a line moves through the key number of three it is particularly significant. Books don’t like making that move because it exposes them to the risk of costly middling. That means that the action has to be strong to force it to happen. Because it happened in this game, it’s a strong indicator that sharp money is skeptical about the Mountaineers and is strongly backing the Wildcats.
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