West Virginia is all business in 2012. Ranked inside the Top 5 for the first time since 2007, the Mountaineers have their sights set on a national title berth in January.
Thanks to its stellar offensive attack, WVU found itself ranked No. 11 in the preseason, its highest preseason ranking since 2008. While numerous other teams, like USC, Oklahoma, and most recently Florida State, have fallen off, the Mountaineers have fought their way to a 5-0 record.
Last week, they passed what may prove to be their most strenuous test of the regular season, a road contest with then-No. 11 Texas. The normally pass-happy offense dominated the Longhorns on the ground in the win, while the oft-maligned defense came up with some timely stops to seal the victory.
A team once thought to be comprised of nothing more than a gimmicky one-dimensional offense and a porous defense now looks much more like a complete package. One that just may be delivered to Miami on Jan. 7.
West Virginia has come close before, the only question now is whether or not it can make the final leap to the pinnacle of the sport.
In previous years, WVU's schedule and conference standing would be a major detraction from its BCS resume. Now in the Big 12 Conference, the case is exactly the opposite for the Mountaineers.
After notching two consecutive wins over ranked opponents, they still have a tough slate ahead of them. Five of their next seven opponents are currently or have been ranked at some point this season.
Two of WVU's remaining games come against very high-profile opponents. The first will come next week against No. 6 Kansas State and the second in November against Oklahoma—a team that began the season ranked No.4.
No matter how you slice it, thanks to its schedule, WVU will be right there at season's end. Of course, that is provided they win out.
If the Mountaineers can do that, a task they have the talent to accomplish, the only thing standing in their way will be the potential for other undefeated teams.
Currently in the Associated Press poll, three Southeastern Conference teams are rated higher than WVU. The good news here is that their schedules are set up so that they'll weed each other out.
No. 4 Florida and No. 3 South Carolina are both undefeated atop the SEC East. They'll square off on Oct. 20 in a national-title elimination bout. Whichever team wins obviously will have the upper hand to make it to the SEC title game.
Right now, it looks like the SEC East champion will take on No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide are a heavy favorite to make the not only the SEC title game, but also national title game, though they will have to go through one of these two teams, along with still-undefeated Mississippi State and LSU along the way.
Regardless, it is highly unlikley that a one-loss SEC team will jump an undefeated West Virginia or Oregon team and there is obviously no way that there will be multiple undefeated SEC teams.
Which brings us to WVU's next-biggest threat to a national title berth: Oregon.
The Ducks are currently ranked No. 2 and are the heavy favorite to take the Pac-12 Conference title. Still, they have a very tough road ahead of them.
November will bring UO three ranked opponents including a visit to No. 11 USC and a road rivalry battle with No. 10 Oregon State. If the Ducks manage to make it through at the top of the Pac-12 North, they'll likely have another date with USC.
The Ducks have looked great so far this season, but haven't truly been tested away from the comforts of Autzen Stadium. With a freshman quarterback, those road contests will be no easy task.
West Virginia, on the other hand, has a senior-laden roster including a third-year starter at quarterback, Geno Smith. Did I mention he has essentially lapped every other competitor in the race for the Heisman Trophy so far this season?
Yes, the Mountaineers have that going for them as well.
On the road to the national title, the idea of a "trap game" often arises. It cost Oklahoma State a national title berth last season. The Cowboys were undefeated ranked No. 2 with only Iowa State and rival Oklahoma remaining on the schedule.
OSU took care of business in its last regular season game against the Sooners, but failed to do so against Iowa State two weeks earlier. On a Friday night in Ames, ISU pulled off the season-defining upset, taking down OSU in overtime—the only loss of the season for the Cowboys.
Next week, West Virginia will take on No. 6 Kansas State, the highest-ranked team remaining on its 2012 slate. Naturally, the question of a trap game has come up with WVU taking on unranked Texas Tech on the road this week. However, Smith was quick to dispel that idea.
"I believe we have a great group of leaders on this team," Smith told the media on Tuesday. "We have great leadership from the coaching staff down to the players. We have good senior leadership. We all understand our responsibilities, which is to getting better from week to week. We are not going to look past anyone. It’s a marathon, not a sprint."
Head coach Dana Holgorsen was asked the same question earlier in the day, to which he gave one of his customary tounge-in-cheek responses.
"I don’t understand what a trap game means," he said in his weekly press conference. "You play the same every week. If you don’t have the ability to understand that every week is the same, you get beat. Whether it’s a trap game or ‘big’ game, it’s a game."
Holgorsen and Smith both have a similar outlook on this season, which is great for WVU in a few ways. It proves that this team is on the same page, that they will have to earn every win and can't take anything for granted.
They all seem to have a similar level confidence, but are yet humble and committed to working hard.
The stage is set and the mindset is right in Morgantown. The only thing left to do is win.