Big things have arrived in Morgantown.
Since the announcement of West Virginia's move to the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineer athletic department adopted a slogan that will be obsolete after the weekend: Big Things Are Coming.
Perhaps more big things will come in the future, but this weekend will be the start as WVU will host Baylor in football to begin its life as a member of the Big 12.
As always, the Mountaineers will rely heavily on their senior quarterback Geno Smith in what should be a shootout on Saturday afternoon.
Baylor will bring in a senior quarterback of its own in Nick Florence and both of the signal callers have excellent skill players at their disposal.
Both the Bears and the Mountaineers have struggled on defense a bit this year, as they come in at No. 10 and No. 8 respectively in the Big 12 in total defense.
The game will also be a reunion of coaches, as Baylor head coach Art Briles and West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen worked together on the Texas Tech coaching staff under Mike Leach in the early 2000s.
Both teams enter the game undefeated at 3-0 overall in what will also be the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
It will be imperative for both teams to start conference play off on the right foot, as the USA Today Sagarin Ratings currently recognize the Big 12 as the strongest conference in college football.
Players to Watch
WVU QB Geno Smith—There might not be a player in the country more valuable to his team than WVU's Smith. He is currently the Hiesman Trophy front-runner and the No. 2 passer in college football. Most importantly, he hasn't thrown an interception yet this year—a trend he'll look to continue on Saturday.
BU QB Nick Florence—Not much was expected of Florence in his first year as a starter replacing Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. However, he has been a delightful surprise for Baylor so far this year, as he has averaged 334.7 yards per game, good for No. 5 in the nation. In a game that is expected to be a shootout, the end result may come down to who makes less mistakes between these two starting signal callers.
WVU Receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey—Austin and Bailey have been arguably the best receiver tandem in college football so far this season. Together they have accounted for 677 receiving yards—more than 22 entire teams. They've also hauled in ten touchdowns. The only question is which of the two will have more yards in this contest?
BU Receivers Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese—If Austin and Bailey are the best tandem in the country, then Williams and Reese are a close second. WVU's tandem rates No. 6 and 8 respectively in per-game receiving yardage, while Baylor's duo comes in at No. 5 and 15. The biggest difference between the groups is style of play. WVU employs more of a short game, allowing its pair to rack up yards after the catch, while Baylor relies on a vertical-strike strategy.
WVU S Darwin Cook—To combat Baylor's strong vertical passing game, West Virginia is going to need a strong performance from safety Darwin Cook. He is coming off his best game of the season against Maryland, in which he registered two forced fumbles. Meanwhile, the Mountaineer corners Brodrick Jenkins at Pat Miller have been spotty in coverage this season, so Cook (and fellow safety Karl Joseph) will need to be there to back them up.
BU NB Ahmad Dixon—Similar to Cook, Dixon is a great playmaker who is also coming off what was likely his best performance so far this season. He notched 11 tackles and an interception against UL Monroe last week. He will have his hands full covering Austin and Bailey on Saturday. However, while speaking to the media on WVU early this week, Dixon said he is ready to show the Mountaineers what the Big 12 is all about (via BaylorBears.com): "We get to open those guys up to the Big 12," Dixon said. "We get to show them how we perform in the Big 12."
Keys to the Game
1. Which team will in the turnover battle?
Everyone is expecting a shootout on Saturday, as two of the nation's top offenses will square off. However, given the talent of the two offenses, this game will likely come down to which defense is able to force more turnovers and give its offense more opportunities to score. So far, Baylor's average turnover margin is plus-2 per game, while WVU's margin is 1.67 per contest. The Bears have forced ten turnovers but have also committed four (all Florence interceptions). Meanwhile, WVU has forced six turnovers while losing just one.
2. Can WVU establish a running game?
West Virginia looked its best on offense in Week 1 against Marshall, totaling 331 yards on the ground—only the second time under Holgorsen in which the Mountaineers had more rushing than passing yards. Baylor does have some talented defensive backs, so WVU will need to establish some sort of running game, especially after netting just 146 yards on the ground against James Madison and Maryland. The good news: it looks like leading rusher Shawne Alston should back after sitting out the majority of the game last week.
3. Can Baylor overcome emotional crowd in Morgantown?
The excitement surrounding the West Virginia football program has probably never been greater than it will be this weekend. The WVU administration knows this, as they even released a PSA (h/t CBSSports.com) earlier this week discouraging Mountaineer fans from burning couches this weekend. Baylor also knows this too, as Florence acknowledged early this week: "From what I've been told it's going to be awesome," Florence said (via BaylorBears.com). "First Big 12 game, they'll be excited. Their fans will be excited and so will we. They have a lot to prove and so will we." The big question? Which team will be able to prove what they're out to prove?
When: Saturday, Sept. 29 | 12:06 p.m. ET
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium | Morgantown, W. Va.
TV Coverage: FX broadcast begins at 12 p.m. ET
Live Stream: No official stream available