(Video via WVU Athletics)
The Big 12 RapidReports blog is taking a look at what went wrong for the Big 12's only team not to make a bowl game (Kansas) and perhaps the league's biggest disappointment (West Virginia).
West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12)
Expectations: Extremely high. The Mountaineers joined the league and were immediately considered one of the favorites, coming off a 2011 Big East championship and a 70-33 demolition of Clemson in last season's Orange Bowl. They were second in the Big 12 preseason media poll behind Oklahoma and had the league's preseason offensive player of the year in QB Geno Smith.
West Virginia did nothing to dissuade those who expected big things with a strong start to the season, getting to 5-0 overall and climbing into the top five of the AP rankings after starting Big 12 play with a 70-63 shootout win over Baylor and following that up with a 48-45 win at Texas.
What went wrong: Even when things were going well for WVU, the signs were there that the defense wouldn't be good enough to hold up against top-notch competition. That aforementioned 70-63 win over Baylor saw the Bears' receivers -- especially Biletnikoff Award finalist Terrance Williams -- get wide open all day long.
That continued all season, as West Virginia finished ranked 119th of 120 FBS teams in pass defense, giving up 327.08 yards per game through the air. Not surprisingly, WVU was No. 114 in scoring defense as a result, yielding 38.08 points per game.
But the offense had its rough patches as well.
Smith was dead-eye accurate early in the season, but lost his touch on deep balls during the team's swoon. The running game churned out 258 yards against Texas, but that was an anomaly, as the Mountaineers struggled to run with starting RB Shawne Alston missing the majority of the season with a severe thigh bruise. Teams were able to drop seven or eight defenders into pass coverage without getting punished, which made life nearly impossible for Smith and his receivers.
When it went wrong: Immediately after that Oct. 6 win at Texas. West Virginia went to Texas Tech the next week, and a win would have set up a marquee national matchup against an undefeated Kansas State squad. Instead, the Mountaineers left Lubbock on the wrong end of a 49-14 shellacking.
It took WVU more than a month to recover, as a five-game losing streak ensued: another blowout loss (this time at home) to K-State, a double OT loss at home to TCU, a mistake-filled defeat at Oklahoma State and a 50-49 heartbreaker to Oklahoma. Wins at Iowa State and vs. Kansas to end the season got the Mountaineers to the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse, but folks in Morgantown had much loftier postseason goals in mind in mid-October.
Biggest overall disappointment: The defense. It didn't have to be great -- just respectable -- and West Virginia would have had a much better season. It certainly would have beaten TCU (ultimately a 39-38 loss) and Oklahoma (a 50-49 loss) with a better pass defense, giving up critical late plays through the air in both losses. A 9-3 season would have felt much different than WVU's eventual 7-5 finish.
Bright spots: Tavon Austin was not a Heisman Trophy finalist, but there may not be a more dangerous player in college football on any given snap. He put on one of most dominant individual performances in recent memory in the loss to the Sooners, rushing for a school-record 344 yards on only 21 carries in his first game at RB since high school. He added another 82 receiving yards and 146 kick return yards.
Fellow receiver Stedman Bailey was a deserving Biletnikoff Award finalist, putting up 1,501 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns despite a midseason ankle injury. He had more TD receptions individually than 68 FBS teams did collectively.
Even when Smith wasn't at his best, he wasn't bad. The senior finished with 4,004 passing yards and 40 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions. He completed 71.4 percent of his passes in the process.
2013 outlook: Things don't figure to be much, if any, better in 2013. West Virginia may again find itself scraping to attain bowl eligibility, as the team's top offensive stars -- Smith and Austin -- both will be gone, having exhausted their eligibility. Most in Morgantown believe Bailey is likely to join them in the NFL draft. A veteran offensive line loses several stalwarts and will have to be retooled, and there is precious little returning experience at the receiver positions.
Even if the defense improves some -- Holgorsen fired cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts and reports have indicated he has given defensive play-calling duties to Keith Patterson (taking them away from longtime Oklahoma State assistant Joe DeForest) -- it may not be enough with so much youth on offense.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter. You can also follow C.J. (@cjmoore4) and Patrick (@patricksouthern).