College football preview: West Virginia
3 reasons why West Virginia will win
1. Transfers are expected to make an immediate impact.
Coach Dana Holgorsen has met questions about how he will replace “90 percent” of the offensive production after losing quarterback Geno Smith and top receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the NFL with a surprising answer: He says he sleeps well at night. So do opposing Big 12 coaches, who don't have to worry about facing the trio. What they should be concerned about is that the Mountaineers might replace them with transfers who have talent and experience. Quarterback Clint Trickett comes from Florida State, running back Charles Sims from Houston and Dreamius Smith from Butler Community College in Kansas, and all three are expected to play significant roles.
2. The air-raid offense gets run support.
The Mountaineers have their strongest stable of running backs in Holgorsen's three-year tenure. Leading rusher Andrew Buie rushed for 851 yards and seven touchdowns, including 207 yards and two scores against Texas. Dustin Garrison averaged 4.5 yards a carry. The addition of Sims and Smith gives West Virginia a major boost. Sims was a two-time All-Conference USA selection who rushed for 2,370 yards and 29 touchdowns in three seasons with the Cougars. Smith led Butler CC to the national title game two years in a row, averaging 8.2 yards per carry last season.
3. The defense should be improved.
After allowing 38.1 points and 472.5 yards per game, the Mountaineers can't be much worse than they were last season. The Mountaineers have some stability with Keith Patterson as defensive coordinator, which allows Holgorsen to concentrate on offense. Defensive tackle Will Clarke predicts West Virginia will be improved in both the pass rush and in coverage, knowing the two go hand-in-hand. The Mountaineers should be strong up the middle, returning Clarke at defensive tackle, Isaiah Bruce at linebacker and leading tackler Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook at safety.
3 reasons why West Virginia will lose
1. Question marks at quarterback.
Holgorsen has a history of producing prolific passers at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, but this might be his biggest challenge. While Trickett started two games at Florida State, he still is learning the offense and adjusting to new teammates. Junior Paul Millard played sparingly behind Geno Smith, completing 9 of 19 passes for 87 yards in seven games last season. Redshirt freshman Ford Childress, a touted recruit from Houston, might have the most talent but has the least experience. No matter who starts, West Virginia is going to have a hard time duplicating Smith's early-season success last season.
2. Searching for an offensive identity.
If the run game is the strength of the offense, it could depend on the development of the offensive line. If the passing attack is going to be the strength, as Holgorsen prefers, the Mountaineers will need time for the quarterback to establish his favorite targets. The schedule, with visits to Oklahoma in Week 2 and Maryland in Week 4 followed by a home game against Oklahoma State in Week 5 and a trip to Baylor, is unforgiving through the first six weeks. Holgorsen thinks the difference between going 10-3, as he did in his first season, and 7-6 last year is winning the close games.
3. The defense still isn't much of a strength.
The Mountaineers are counting on junior college transfers to bolster a defense that allowed 30 points or more three times, 40-plus twice, 50 or more three times and 63 to Baylor. West Virginia is still young at linebacker and in the secondary, which was stung by opponents' passing for 312.5 yards per game last season. That's only 17.7 yards fewer than the Mountaineers averaged, and they had one of the nation's most explosive offenses. While WVU is unlikely to have such a quick-strike offense, the key will be whether its defense can keep foes from controlling the clock by running the ball.
Who to watch
Front-runner for starting job transferred from Florida State after graduating in three years. Put up prolific numbers in his first of two starts, including throwing for 336 yards and three TDs against Clemson in 2011. Still learning Mountaineers' air-raid offense.
Senior, running back
The Houston transfer was recruited by Dana Holgorsen and thrived in his offense as a freshman, when he was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year. A two-time all-conference selection, Sims led the Cougars in rushing three seasons.
Junior, left tackle
The 6-foot-5, 335-pounder will anchor an offensive line that will be a key to the running game. Started all 13 games last season, seeing action in all but 31 of the 998 offensive plays.
Senior, defensive tackle
The 6-foot-7, 273-pound Allderdice graduate was an All-Big 12 honorable mention after finishing with 26 tackles, 1 1⁄2 sacks and 6 1⁄2 tackles for loss last season. Became first three-time Iron Mountaineer honoree in WVU history in the spring.
Named a first-team Freshman All-American by FoxSports.com, Joseph led the Mountaineers in tackles (104) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (two). Had seven or more tackles in 11 games.
vs. William & Mary
The Tribe, led by running back Keith McBride (689 rushing yards) and receiver Tre McBride (897 receiving yards, 10 TDs) are coming off a 1-10 season but gave Maryland a scare in 7-6 loss in the opener last season.
The Mountaineers will be tested against the nationally ranked Sooners, who are led by 259-pound fullback Trey Millard (5.9 yards per carry) but must replace Big 12 career passing leader Landry Jones.
vs. Georgia State
The Mountaineers get another visit from an FCS team that finished 1-10 last season in the Panthers.
The Mountaineers have seven straight victories over the Terps, including a 31-21 victory last season. Maryland did as good a job defensively as anyone last season, but WVU took advantage of turnovers and penalties.
vs. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys feature one of the most productive wideouts in college football in Josh Stewart, who had 101 catches last season, and the Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year in defensive tackle Calvin Barnett.
WVU needed to score 70 points last season to beat the Bears, who feature a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Larche Seastrunk.
vs. Texas Tech
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen goes head-to-head against one of his former QB proteges — new Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury.
at Kansas State
The Wildcats, who handed WVU its most-lopsided loss (55-14) last season, must overcome the loss of QB Collin Klein. Defensive back Ty Zimmerman, a third-team All-American, had INTs in four straight games, including vs. WVU.
The Horned Frogs' defense is led by Devonte Fields (18 1⁄2 TFLs, 10 sacks for minus-74 yards) and All-American cornerback Jason Verrett, who had six interceptions and 16 pass breakups.
The Longhorns return 19 starters, including 10 on an offense that has all five linemen back. Texas features QB David Ash and wideouts Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis, who combined for 1,676 receiving yards last season.
After a 1-10 season, there's nowhere to go but up for the Jayhawks. Coach Charlie Weis will hand the reins of his offense to QB Jake Heaps, a BYU transfer who passed for 1,452 yards in '11.
vs. Iowa State
Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads returns to the site of Pitt's 13-9 upset in the 2007 Backyard Brawl and brings a pistol offense and a defense led by defensive back Jacques Washington and LB Jeremiah George.