West Virginia looks like a real challenger for the Big 12 title in convincing win

It took five years in the Big 12 and some hot seat chatter, but West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen might finally have the team to challenge for a Big 12 title.

The last time the Mountaineers had such lofty expectations was 2012, when they beat then No. 11 Texas 48-45 in Austin to move to 5-0 and 2-0 in Big 12 play. West Virginia would go on to lose its next five games, starting with 49-14 loss at Texas Tech.

As it so happens, West Virginia is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in conference again thanks to a 48-17 win ... at Texas Tech. It was as impressive as any win in the Big 12 this year. Clearly, this is a much different team than the one four years ago, primarily on the defensive side.

Scoring 48 points on the Red Raiders is one thing. Tech gave up 38.6 points per game heading into Week 7 and defense has never been coach Kliff Kingsbury's specialty. But limiting the Red Raiders offense to 17 points and two touchdowns -- one of which came in garbage time and the other on a wild third-and-29 -- warrants your attention.

It was early last week when Mountaineers receiver Shelton Gibson said this team's defense was good enough to limit Texas Tech to 10 points. Not 10 per quarter -- 10 points in 60 minutes.

A natural reaction would have been to blow off Gibson's comments. The Red Raiders had the No. 1 scoring offense in the FBS (55.2 points per game) heading into Saturday. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, arguably the best quarterback in the Big 12 and a criminally underrated one nationally, led the country in total yards per game (487.2). Even on a defensive curve, those are ludicrous numbers.

West Virginia didn't hold Texas Tech to exactly 10 points, but Gibson's message resonates all the same.

Tech still got some yards -- 379 to be specific. Even going 10-of-19 on third downs is respectable. However, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson had his players ready. Tech averaged five yards per play and scored on just three of 11 drives. West Virginia put Tech's offense behind the chains numerous times and the red zone interception was the play of the game ...

Texas Tech may be a .500 team, but the Mountaineers' defensive effort was as good as any we've seen in the Big 12.

Now the question becomes whether West Virginia can take that and make a Big 12 title run out of it. The remaining schedule has hurdles -- the top four preseason Big 12 favorites remain, three of which come to Morgantown.

GameDateStoryline
TCU10/22Trying to avenge a 40-10 loss in '15.
@ OK ST10/29Can WVU surpass the Pokes as the Big 12 dark horse?
Kansas11/5WVU beat the Jayhawks 49-0 in '15.
@ Texas11/12'Eers looking to win two in a row over the Horns for the first time.
OU11/19WVU has never beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12.
@ISU11/26Beat the Cyclones 30-6 in '15.
Baylor12/3Beat Baylor 41-27 in Morgantown two years ago.

The Mountaineers are clicking. The defense is playing at the top of its game, quarterback Skyler Howard has quietly emerged as one of the most improved players in college football and there's a lot of balance to Holgorsen's attack. No team has run the table in the Big 12's round-robin format, and this wide-open year in the conference gives teams like West Virginia a better chance. Now they have to keep the momentum going.

The 'Eers believe it, too. That's what makes them the most dangerous.

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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