When you think of West Virginia Mountaineer football, the first thought that usually comes to mind is electrifying offense and sub-par defense. That’s exactly what the 2012 season brought to Morgantown.
Dana Holgorsen is entering his third season as head coach of the Mountaineers, leading them to bowl games in his first two seasons. He has an overall record of 17-9 and a 1-1 bowl game record.
A year ago, West Virginia football was one of the top offenses in college football and there were three main offensive threats to thank for that. Well, four, but three have them have come and gone. Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Geno Smith were all top NFL Draft prospects and all took the next step, leaving Holgorsen searching for replacements.
Let’s take a look at how this team, playing their first season in the Big 12 Conference, will stack up in 2013. Leaving the Big East behind should be quite the step up for the program along with some growing pains.
While many of the key players from a year ago on offense have gone on to bigger and better things, there are still some weapons on offense and defense that are sure to be adequate replacements. Junior running back Andrew Buie was the team’s leading rusher from a season ago with 851 yards and seven rushing touchdowns on 179 carries. Showing his versatility, he also caught 28 passes for 318 yards.
At the start of the 2012 season, the key players would be completely different because of their depth at the wide receiver position, but that depth has now turned into desperation. They will be looking for guys to fill the void of two 1,000-yard receivers.
Defensively, sophomore free safety Karl Joseph will be the leader. As a freshman in 2012, he earned honors galore while leading the team in tackles and interceptions while ranking second on the team in pass breakups.
Looking at this team from top to bottom, there is a lot to be worked on offensively this offseason. First things first: find a quarterback. A report came out from Morgantown a week ago that the players on the team think the quarterback race is too close to call.
After losing a superstar college quarterback like Geno Smith, any replacement will have a tough time adjusting to the high expectations that come with being the starting quarterback at West Virginia. Clint Trickett, a Florida State Seminoles transfer, seems to be the front-runner right now because of his experience. He has learned from solid QBs during his time as a backup and learning the Mountaineer offense is the only obstacle.
While the running back position won’t be an issue, finding receivers to get West Virginia even close to their 10th overall passing offense from a year ago will be tough. Right now, there is no clear-cut favorite to start and no returning receiver had over 115 yards receiving from a year ago besides running back Buie.
Junior college transfer Kevin White could be the No. 1 guy when fall ball starts along with Ivan McCartney. Jordan Thompson will look to be the slot receiver.
The defense was awful from a season ago, ranking toward the bottom of the nation in many defensive categories. In fact, they were nearly last in the nation in points allowed per game with an astounding 38.1 — something that desperately needs to improve.
Returning their leading tackler and interception man, outstanding sophomore Joseph will be the leader on defense.
Also returning four of their top five tacklers from a year ago should be helpful in the process of improving defensive prowess. With a lot of key pieces on defense returning, I don’t see how they will rank nearly last in the nation in any category, especially with a potential All-American at safety.
The Mountaineers are in a new conference and, therefore, will get the “new kid” treatment from the Big 12 teams. While they may be a talented team and a successful Big East team since 2003, winning six conference titles since then, they still have a lot to prove.
After a 7-6 season a year ago, it will be tough to make it back to a bowl game, especially with a completely different offense and a new conference. I think the Mountaineers will finish 7-5 this season and Holgorsen will make his third-straight bowl game.