It’s that time again for your favorite annual series, where we come up with dream and nightmare scenarios for every Big 12 team for the upcoming season. Reality will fall somewhere in the middle. But imagine a season in which every single possible domino fell into place. And likewise, if all that could go wrong, well, did.
We start up this series with West Virginia:
Skyler Howard proves to be the same QB that shredded Arizona State in the bowl game. He cuts down his turnovers in half while improving his completion percentage to one of the best three in the conference. Shelton Gibson proves to be the second coming of Kevin White, only more athletic. Kennedy McKoy quickly establishes himself as the Big 12’s top freshman running back, behind the best run-blocking line offensive line that Dana Holgorsen has ever enjoyed in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers jump to another fantastic start, pummeling Missouri in Morgantown by three touchdowns. West Virginia follows that with a victory in Landover, Maryland, as Howard outduels Taysom Hill with 400 yards through the air. The following week, Holgorsen finally figures out the antidote to “The Wizard, as West Virginia handles K-State to move to 4-0.
Defensively, West Virginia coordinator Tony Gibson pushes all the right buttons as he retools his inexperienced defense around game-breaking safety Dravon Henry-Askew and end Noble Nwachukwu, who both earn first-team All-Big 12 honors.
Even in a dream scenario, the Mountaineers don't go undefeated, losing three close ones in a row to Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State. But the mental wounds of last year's four-game losing streak are quickly healed.
Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Kyzir White picks off Shane Buechele late in Austin to seal the victory over Texas. Then, before a primetime ESPN College GameDay audience in Morgantown, West Virginia stuns top-ranked Oklahoma, as Howard engineers a game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds. Country music star Brad Paisley is in the house for the win, and after the student body storms the field, he leads ‘Eer Nation to a boisterous rendition of “Country Roads” over the PA system.
The Mountaineers go on to finish with nine wins for the first time as a Big 12 member, before rolling past Rich Rodriguez and Arizona in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Holgorsen finally inks a contract extension. Bob Huggins goes to the Sweet 16. Pitt finishes 4-8. West Virginia signs five blue-chippers out of Miami. The Big 12 invites Cincinnati to join the league, giving the Mountaineers their sought-after travel partner.
It doesn't take long for the turnovers that plagued Howard in 2015 to resurface. He’s picked off four times by a surprisingly stingy Mizzou defense, and West Virginia drops the opener, 9-3.
Gibson struggles with drops all year, and the running game falls apart without Wendell Smallwood. Defensively, the Mountaineers are unable to discover any consistency with so many new faces.
After failing to score a touchdown again against BYU, Holgorsen turns the offense over to freshman QB Chris Chugunov. He gives the offense a jolt against K-State, but the Wildcats take down West Virginia yet again in the fourth quarter with a punt return touchdown.
The Mountaineers rebound to get to five wins, but can't get to bowl eligibility, as Jim Grobe and Baylor run West Virginia out of a half-full Milan Puskar Stadium.
Pitts goes on to win the ACC Coastal. Holgorsen bolts to become Tom Herman's replacement at new Big 12 member Houston. The conference also adds BYU, Boise State and Colorado State, thrusting West Virginia's travel budget into turmoil.