Standout WVU QB Geno Smith leads a freakishly talented Mountaineer offense returning eight starters as they enter the Big 12.Standout WVU QB Geno Smith leads a freakishly talented Mountaineer offense returning eight starters as they enter the Big 12.
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
11. West Virginia
2011 Record (Big 12): 10-3 (5-2)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 16 (8/6/2)
After 20 years in the Big East, West Virginia and second year head coach Dana Holgorsen are looking to make some noise in their Big 12 debuts and their sizzling offense could get them there. The Mountaineers depth chart is littered with talented and explosive athletes, particularly on offense. Leading the way is quarterback Geno Smith, who last year became the first player in school history to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season. Under Holgorsen, who’s known for orchestrating high-octane offenses, there’s reason to believe he could even reach the 5,000 yard mark this season. Smith will have the luxury of playing catch with two of the most gifted wideouts in college football, Steadman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Austin, a first-team All-American return man last year, pulled in 101 catches last season to go along with almost 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. He figures to work on the inside while deep-ball threat Bailey (17.8 yards per catch, school record 12 touchdowns last season) lines up outside. Unheralded freshman recruit Jordan Thompson was making some noise from the slot position in spring and should contribute to a very deep receiving corps. The offensive line should be a team strength as well, returning a core of three starters that includes All-Big East center Joe Madsen.
Their defense lost three players to the NFL draft, cornerback Keith Tandy along with sack-masters Bruce Irvin and Najee Goode. Still, they aren’t lacking depth at those positions and have some dynamic athletes looking to fill the voids left by the departure of five talented seniors. Junior Will Clarke is incredibly versatile against both the pass and run, and will be utilized at every position along the defensive line. Jewone Snow, racking up 42 tackles in just seven starts as a redshirt freshman last season, moves from middle linebacker to the buck position where he can provide some burst off the edge as well. The Mountaineers are set at corner, returning both starters from their 2012 Orange Bowl Victory in Brodick Jenkins and Pat Miller. There are some questions surrounding safety-turned linebacker Terence Garvin and bandit safety Darwin Cook, both of whom were expected to start in 2012. The two, who combined for 157 tackles in 2011, were involved in some off-the-field issues in spring and could miss some time to start the season. A name that could fill some of that void is junior college standout Matt Moro, who has new defensive coordinator Joe Deforest raving in spring practices.
ROAD TO THE BCS
The Big 12 sent eight teams to bowl games last season, and West Virginia plays each of the other seven in 2012. Luckily, Holgorsen’s squad has some time to get the engine revved before a tough road matchup against Texas week six. They host Kansas State and Big 12 newcomer TCU in back to back games mid-season before a two-game stretch against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in November.
BURNING QUESTION: Will the Mountaineers lose another "gimme" game this season?
Over the last five seasons, 11 of West Virginia’s 15 losses have come against unranked opponents. Last year they surrendered 49 points in a loss to a 5-7 Syracuse squad that won no other Big East games that season. They open up against two FCS opponents (Marshall and James Madison) and a rebuilding Maryland program. The Mountaineers need to keep their focus week in and week out, particularly in the games they come in as heavy favorites, if they want to be able to find success in a much deeper conference.
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