WVU notebook: Mountaineers focus on 'national recruiting'
DALLAS — West Virginia has recognized benefits from Big 12 membership, but it hasn't received an influx of recruits from football-crazy Texas.
“It's shifted in the opposite direction,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday at Big 12 media day. “The old Big East was a very regional conference. Now that we're in the Big 12, it's national recruiting. Our appeal to kids across the country is greater than it ever has been.
“It's tough to beat out all of the schools in Texas when you're recruiting a Texas product. Now we can get guys back east and sell them on something the East Coast doesn't have, which is the Big 12,” said Holgorsen, who recruited in Texas when he was an assistant coach at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
WVU's roster heading into preseason practice includes 21 players from Florida, 19 from West Virginia, 15 from Ohio, 12 from Pennsylvania and 10 from New Jersey. Nine are from Texas and two from other states (Kansas and Oklahoma, one each) with Big 12 members.
In 2011, the Mountaineers' last season in the Big East, West Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania also were the four states providing the most players. The biggest gains in the meantime were from New Jersey and Texas, which both supplied two WVU players in '11.
• Holgorsen called WVU's schedule “one of the toughest” in the country. Replacing William & Mary and Georgia State among the three nonconference opponents are Alabama, ranked No. 1 for much of last season, and Towson. Big 12 rivals Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas are projected to be Top 25 teams.
• Holgorsen said the Mountaineers are interested in renewing their rivalry with Pitt. “It's good not only for Morgantown and West Virginia but also for Pittsburgh and West Virginia,” he said. “When you go from seven games on your conference schedule to nine, you've got to drop some nonconference games. That makes it challenging, and that's why you see teams announcing games for 2020 and '21. Even if we have to wait until 2025-26, I'm all for it.”
• West Virginia will kick off its 2018 season against Tennessee in Charlotte, N.C. The game will be played at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.
• Speed and a fast-paced offense were major topics with Big 12 coaches. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, “I don't know that there's a whole lot that you can do to go much faster. You still have to be able to get lined up yourself and officials to get in place and still snap the ball. But we'll keep looking for ways.” When Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, the Pitt Panthers' defensive coordinator from 2000 to '07, went looking for a new offensive coordinator he decided on New Castle native Mark Mangino, previously the Kansas head coach. Mangino also coached at Lincoln High in Ellwood City, Geneva College and most recently at his alma mater, Youngstown State. Rhoads said, “We're going to be a spread system. We're going to deploy a lot of three-wide receiver sets and one-back offense. We're not going to huddle. We want to be simple where our kids can execute at a high rate of speed, and I think that's exactly what Mark brings to our offense.”
• One way to stop the Big 12's pass-happy offenses is to pressure the quarterback. Holgorsen indicated that Shaquille Riddick, a 6-foot-6, 244-pound senior transfer from Gardner-Webb, could provide that rush. “From what we see on tape, he's physically as good as anybody we've got on our team. He's quick off the edge. We need guys to come off the edge and sack the quarterback.”
• Illustrating a gradually growing level of experience, the Mountaineers brought three players who were with the team last season alone to the media day. Senior receiver Kevin Smith, a junior-college transfer, said he brings “intensity” to the team. “I like to talk a lot. I like to get us going.” What kind of talk does he like best? “Trash-talking opponents. My teammates can see me get fired up and get fired up themselves.” Junior punter Nick O'Toole and sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley talked about 2013's disappointing record. “Coming off a 4-8 season, everybody has that chip on their shoulder,” O'Toole said. Worley's assessment was more reluctant. “No one wants to talk about what happened last year. At the same time, we made our bed and now we've got to lay in it.”