It's been eight years since West Virginia has been in this position.
Every year since then, the Mountaineers have been among the favorites to win their conference and go on to a BCS bowl. That didn't happen every year, but the expectation was there nevertheless.
This year, the team will not lower expectations, but those outside of the program have.It's the first time since the 2005 season that expectations surrounding the team have been this low. That year, Rasheed Marshall and Chris Henry departed and there was a lot of uncertainty heading into the year. It would either be Adam Bednarik or some redshirt freshman named Pat White that would take over under center.
Of course, that season ended pretty well, with WVU earning its first of three BCS bowl victories by beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Since then, that's been the standard.
White returned with Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt in 2006 and 2007, and the Mountaineers entered those seasons ranked in the top ten.
Rich Rodriguez and Slaton departed after that 2007 season, but that didn't have much of an effect on the next season's expectations. Coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory and returning White at quarterback, West Virginia was once again a preseason top ten team.
Even after that disappointing year, this program was always expected to battle for a conference championship. After all, the Big East was pretty weak and West Virginia could go toe-to-toe with any other team in the conference when it came to talent.
Finally, just as it appeared that the program may be going stale, Dana Holgorsen brought his high-powered offense to Morgantown, and expectations rose again. His first season ended in the most recent BCS victory, and made West Virginia a potential National Championship contender going into 2012.
Last year was a disappointment. There's no other way to put that. The biggest names from that team are gone this year, too. Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey will all be drafted this April, and younger players will be left to battle it out at West Virginia.
The defense will have to show a lot of improvement, too. This was one of the worst in the country last season and really kept West Virginia from having the type of season many thought was possible. Surely, it will get better this season, but by how much is still unknown.
Put that all together, and you've got a West Virginia team with a lot of question marks. And this time, the Mountaineers won't be able to prey on the Big East's schedule in order to put together a solid record.
This is a program that has thrived on flying under the radar, though. All three of their BCS wins came as pretty substantial upsets, and that 2005 season began with similar question marks, but ended with a Sugar Bowl win.
That's not to say this team is going to follow that path. That's a lot to ask. This is a different coaching staff with different players from that team eight years ago, and we don't know how this one will respond.
If it's anything like that 2005 team, it could be a fun season, but we really have no way of knowing.
After all, these preseason expectations are something relatively new for all of us.