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WVU offseason filled with questions

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Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers looks at the scoreboard after a safety against the Syracuse Orange in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 29, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, 10:20 p.m.

NEW YORK — West Virginia's football team has a lot of work to do.

First, it must replace offensive stars Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Shawne Alston along with three of the linemen who blocked for them: Jeff Braun, Josh Jenkins and Joe Madsen.

Then there's the matter of coaching up returning players and making them mentally stronger.

That trait was lacking during WVU's 38-14 loss to Syracuse in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

“They were motivated to play,” coach Dana Holgorsen said about the Orange.

And Holgorsen's team, which finished 7-6 in its first year in the Big 12?

“We did a poor job of overcoming adversity,” he said. “The bottom line is our team didn't overcome a lot of things and didn't do enough to stay in the game.”

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson blamed, in part, “mental toughness” for the team's disappointing showing.

“The difference between a 7-6 team and a 10-3 team is a couple plays. We've got to execute those plays,” Dawson said. “Probably got a lot to do with mental toughness.

“Much like the case (against Syracuse), we didn't handle adversity well, and we didn't handle it well in the middle of the season (during a five-game losing streak). We've got to do a better job in the offseason to get these guys mentally tougher.”

Asked for a solution, Dawson said, “That's on us. Everybody in our program — support staff, coaches, strength coaches — has to set an example for these kids to live by and to play by. When they don't (abide by) those standards, they don't need to play.”

Holgorsen has coached and developed several standout college quarterbacks, including Smith, Graham Harrell at Texas Tech, Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State and Case Keenum at Houston. But Holgorsen didn't recruit those players. Next year will be the first time Holgorsen will be head coach of a starting quarterback he recruited.

Sophomore Paul Millard and freshman Ford Childress are the top candidates for the starting job.

“I'm anxious to see who comes out on top” said Smith, WVU's career passing leader. “I'm looking forward to seeing one of those guys prosper in this offense. It's done wonders for quarterbacks. I think both are capable of running it.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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