Harris: National title? WVU making its case

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen (right) and Ivan McCartney (5) take the field before a game against Texas on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, in Austin, Texas.  AP Photo
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen (right) and Ivan McCartney (5) take the field before a game against Texas on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, in Austin, Texas. AP Photo
Photo by AP
| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

Not since Brashear's Major Harris led his team to the Fiesta Bowl 23 years ago has West Virginia generated so much interest on the national college football scene.

The Mountaineers climbed three spots this week in The Associated Press Top 25 poll following their 48-45 win at Texas. They are No. 5 and trail only Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina and Florida.

Loaded question: Are the Mountaineers good enough to contend for the BCS national championship?

At first, I didn't think so. But now, after watching them throttle a good Texas team on the road in front of a raucous crowd of more than 100,000 fans who shook the stadium down to its foundation, I have to say yes. Heck yes!

“We set a goal at the beginning of the season to win the (Big 12) conference,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “We're two games into that. The next challenge is Texas Tech (on Saturday). That's what we talk about.

“I've got some guys that believe,'' Holgorsen continued. “I said it last week and at the end of this game (Texas), I like the way this team plays together. I feel like we had to play together on all three sides of the ball to win, which we did. We had to overcome adversity on all three sides, which we did. Those are some qualities of a good team, no question.”

Holgorsen's translation: Yes, we can win the BCS national championship. Next question?

WVU is very good. However, the uneven performance of the Mountaineers' defense — statistically speaking, at least — prevents them from being labeled a great team. But outside of perhaps Alabama, how many great college football teams are there this season?

West Virginia's offense is so prolific that not being a great team may not matter.

Sometimes a player comes along who is so superior to everyone else on the field that he can lift his teammates to perform at a level that didn't seem attainable.

Senior quarterback Geno Smith is that player.

I won't rattle off his litany of impressive statistics, but suffice it to say Smith ranks No. 1 nationally in passing efficiency and No. 2 in passing and total offense.

Without Smith, Holgorsen's offense would still move the ball and score lots of points, but it wouldn't be as dangerous or as difficult to beat.

And the Mountaineers wouldn't be as confident.

“The confidence is there. The trust is there. We all play as a team. We stick together,'' said Smith, who is looking more and more like a top NFL draft choice. “I always talk about how we are on offense, how our mentality is we don't care who we face. It can be an NFL defense — we're going to work extremely hard and try to win.”

Entering the Texas game, the prevailing national opinion was that although the Mountaineers averaged 53 points through their first four games, they did it against Marshall, James Madison, Maryland and Baylor. Could they do it against a team with a real defense like Texas', and could they do it in Austin in front of more than 100,000 fans on national television?

Are 48 points, 460 total yards, Smith's four touchdown passes and Andrew Buie rushing for a career-high 207 yards sufficient evidence the Mountaineers can rack up monster numbers against any opponent, anywhere?

“That certainly didn't hurt,” Holgorsen said.

“We're in the Big 12, where the offenses are so prolific it makes the defenses look bad,” Smith said. “You can see it out of conference where (Big 12 teams) step up and look really (good).”

One team's success is another team's BCS national championship coming-out party. The Mountaineers may be late coming to the party, but they're making themselves at home.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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