West Virginia’s Officially Big 12 Bound: How Does This Affect Their BCS Title Hopes?

When Caesars Palace became the first Las Vegas sportsbook to release 2013 college football national championship futures in early January, one team that seemed to have legitimate value was West Virginia.

The Mountaineers, projected by ESPN.com to be ranked seventh in next year’s Top 25 preseason poll, opened at 30-1 odds — behind 15 other teams. A handful of schools in front of them aren’t even expected to win the division in their own conference, let alone compete for a BCS title.

In the watered-down Big East, West Virginia figured to be a favorite in all seven of its league games and was also projected to be favored in each of its non-conference games.

But now, with Tuesday’s announcement that the Mountaineers are headed for the Big 12, their road to a perfect season suddenly became far more difficult.

Next year’s schedule includes home games against Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State, and road games at Texas and Oklahoma State.

Needless to say, matchups against the nationally ranked Sooners and Longhorns figure to be a bit more challenging than previously scheduled meetings with Connecticut and Rutgers.

Are West Virginia’s Title Hopes Helped Or Hurt?

Todd Fuhrman, senior race and sports analyst at Caesars Entertainment, said Tuesday that his book currently has West Virginia’s national championship odds at 28-1.

However, the slight move from the opening number occurred well before Tuesday’s announcement that the Mountaineers were Big 12 bound.

“We moved on money originally,” Fuhrman told Team Rankings.

While Fuhrman said he didn’t plan to make immediate adjustments as a result of conference realignment, he did say that he thinks the move to the Big 12 will help West Virginia’s BCS title hopes.

“Even an undefeated record in the thin Big East wouldn’t have assured them a berth,” Fuhrman said. “With potential wins over Texas, Oklahoma and TCU on their résumé, the only team West Virginia can blame for not getting a shot at the BCS title now is West Virginia.”

Had the Mountaineers remained in the Big East, it’s possible that they wouldn’t have played a single ranked team next season. Now, in the Big 12, they could play as many as five ranked opponents, including Oklahoma, which is listed at 10-1 to win the national title.

Looking ahead at West Virginia’s schedule, it should be a double-digit favorite in five games, a small favorite (3 to 7 points) in four and an underdog in three. It figures to be the most challenging schedule the Mountaineers have played since 2002, when they went against four ranked opponents.

Over the last three years, West Virginia has only played three ranked conference opponents. The step up in competition the Mountaineers will face can’t be understated, but nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

09/01 – Marshall | Big favorite
09/15 – James Madison | Huge favorite
09/22 – Maryland  | Big favorite
09/29 – Baylor | Big favorite
10/06 – at Texas  | Small underdog
10/13 – at Texas Tech | Small favorite
10/20 – Kansas State | Small favorite
11/03 – TCU | Small favorite
11/10 – at Oklahoma State | Small underdog
11/17 – Oklahoma | Small underdog
11/24 – at Iowa State | Small favorite
12/01 – Kansas | Big favorite

Jet Lag?

One factor to consider here is the increased travel West Virginia will have to endure. Some would argue it’s minimal, considering schools travel comfortably on private planes for long road trips.

It’s not as drastic as, say, Louisiana Tech competing against WAC teams, but the Mountaineers will be switching time zones for all of their Big 12 road games: at Texas, at Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State and at Iowa State.

The combined mileage on those trips? A whopping 4,176 miles, or 1,044 miles per game.

That will be quite the undertaking for a school that is used to staying fairly close to home within Big East play. Take a look at the Mountaineers’ road performance since the Big East realigned in 2004:

2004: 3-2 overall, 2-3 ATS, 1,666 miles traveled (333 miles per game)
2005: 5-0 overall, 5-0 ATS, 1,830 miles traveled (366 miles per game)
2006: 4-1 overall, 3-2 ATS, 1,758 miles traveled (352 miles per game)
2007: 5-1 overall, 3-3 ATS, 1,988 miles traveled (331 miles per game)
2008: 2-3 overall, 2-3 ATS, 2,449 miles traveled (490 miles per game)
2009: 2-3 overall, 3-2 ATS, 2,237 miles traveled (447 miles per game)
2010: 3-2 overall, 3-2 ATS, 1,849 miles traveled (370 miles per game)
2011: 4-1 overall, 4-1 ATS, 1,830 miles traveled (366 miles per game)

The shortest road trip on West Virginia’s 2012 schedule is 734 miles to Ames, Iowa, for a meeting with the Cyclones. The Mountaineers have only made seven trips that long since 2004, and four of them were to South Florida (809 miles). The team’s record in those long trips (which also included LSU, Colorado and Central Florida): 3-4 overall and 4-3 ATS, with all three ATS losses coming outright as a favorite.

Goodbye To Old Rivals; Hello To Uncertainty

It’s tough to speculate how a school might handle the uncertainty of playing a conference schedule filled with completely new “rivals.” Teams obviously want to enter the new league and immediately prove that they belong, but the existing members likely want to keep the “new guys” at arm’s length.

Since 2004, 10 teams have switched leagues into a BCS Conference. Only Virginia Tech in the ACC in 2004 won more than five league games, and the combined ATS record of that 10-pack of teams was just 33-43-1 (.434).

West Virginia does have something working in its favor, though. Coach Dana Holgorsen is very familiar with the Big 12, having served as an offensive coordinator at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State before taking over the Mountaineers’ program.

Holgorsen runs a pass-happy offense that he fine-tuned at Oklahoma State before taking it to Morgantown. The Big 12 just happens to be one of the most pass-happy leagues in the nation.

The Mountaineers might be unfamiliar with the teams in the league, but their style of play should fit right in.