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How are West Virginia and TCU defenses adjusting to Big 12?

Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense have struggled, but what about the defense? Getty Images

Earlier today I took a look at West Virginia’s drop in offense now that they are in the thick of the Big 12 schedule to see if they can find their swagger this weekend when Oklahoma comes to Morgantown. As I noted, the Mountaineers had scored 56 points in the first quarter of their five wins to start the season but just 14 points in their recent four-game losing streak. The way this season started for West Virginia looked like they were going to have a rousing good time in their new conference home, the Big 12. That clearly has not been the case, with West Virginia still one win away from becoming bowl eligible. After a 5-0 start, who would have thought we would reach that point.

The offense is certainly going to be taking the brunt of the recent struggles of the Mountaineers, but you have to wonder if the defense is getting gassed as well. This was one of the concerns for the Mountaineers heading in to the season, and we now have an idea of whether or not this may be the case. Has the conference change caught up to West Virginia?

I hesitate to make year-by-year comparisons, and especially week-by-week comparisons because every game each week can have a different outlook on a weekly basis and the makeup of teams changes each year. Perhaps, though, we got a glimpse of the theme of the season in week one, when West Virginia faced in-state foe Marshall in the Friends of Coal Bowl. As you can see in the graph below, Marshall found success on offense against West Virginia and you can compare the offensive results for the Thundering Herd. West Virginia played Marshall in week one in 2011 as well, and the defensive success was, to put it kindly, noticeable.

Take a look at the chart below and you will see that once the Mountaineers got in to Big 12 play, it became obvious something was going to have to change compared to playing in the Big East. Last season just four teams all year put together at least 400 yards of total offense against West Virginia. So far this fall all six Big 12 opponents (and seven total) have put together over 400 yards of offense.

West Virginia's defense seems to be struggling against those Big 12 offenses

We knew the defensive numbers were going to spike this season for West Virginia as they moved from the Big East to the high-flying Big 12, with upgrades in offensive talent around the conference from top to bottom compared to the Big East. These numbers illustrate this but to be fair, let’s take a look at how TCU’s defense has performed on a weekly basis after joining the Big 12 after a run in the Mountain West Conference.

You will notice a drastic difference in the week one results. Remember that TCU played Baylor in a wild week one game that started the year off right for Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. To date just one school has put together over 400 yards of offense against the Horned Frogs (surprise, it was Baylor), and for the most part we are seeing somewhat similar results on defense for TCU on a weekly basis.

TCU will enter this weekend’s schedule ranked second in the Big 12 in total defense, behind Texas. West Virginia is ranked ninth, just ahead of Baylor. If defense is going to be the difference in how quickly West Virginia and TCU became viable threats in the conference, it looks as though TCU has a bit of a head start.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.