AP Sports Writer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia no longer has time to savor a solid September.
October looks like a scheduling nightmare.
The 23rd-ranked Mountaineers (3-0) will play three of their first four Big 12 games on the road, starting Saturday at No. 15 Oklahoma (3-0).
All four October games are against ranked opponents.
“I’m anxious to get into Big 12 play,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who insists he hasn’t peeked at the schedule beyond his next opponent. “What we’re going to get into at OU, we all understand their history and their tradition, their winning percentage and success that they’ve had.
“There’s going to be a lot of these games coming up here in the next month. I think we’re as prepared as we can possibly be and look forward to getting in there and seeing what happens.”
After playing the Sooners, West Virginia returns home Oct. 10 against No. 20 Oklahoma State before road games at No. 5 Baylor and No. 4 TCU.
Getting a split of those four games might seem like an accomplishment for the Mountaineers, who are 6-7 in Big 12 road games since joining the league in 2012, including 3-1 last season. All but one of those road losses were by double digits.
But for the first time since entering the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia has a veteran defense with depth. It gives the Mountaineers confidence that they can hold up to the rigors of the conference schedule.
“We’ve been playing a lot of guys,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve had an opportunity in each of the first three games to play upwards of 25 to 28 guys on defense. So that’s going to continue to build depth and get guys ready to go.”
The Mountaineers have allowed a total of three touchdowns this season and have already improved dramatically in turnover margin, a key concern heading into the season. In 2014 they turned the ball over 29 times while gaining just 14 fumbles and interceptions.
This season they’ve snared nine interceptions and recovered two opponents’ fumbles while turning the ball over just twice. Five different players had interceptions in a 45-6 win over Maryland on Saturday. Safety Karl Joseph is tied with BYU’s Kai Nacua with the national lead with four interceptions.
West Virginia is holding opponents to 154 passing yards per game but have yet to see an offense like Oklahoma’s, which is averaging 371 yards through the air.
West Virginia has surpassed 40 points on offense in each game and no longer relies heavily on its own passing attack that often put up 400-yard games under Clint Trickett and Geno Smith.
A 304-yard rushing effort against Maryland, led by Wendell Smallwood’s career-high 147 yards, marked the first time that West Virginia had surpassed 300 yards on the ground since doing it twice in 2012.
In their Big 12 debut season in 2012 when it started 5-0, the Mountaineers surpassed 40 points in four of their first five games — then lost six of their final eight.
“I’m feeling really good about it,” quarterback Skyler Howard said of the team’s mindset entering Big 12 play. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, obviously. I’m happy where we are. Not content, though.”