Tuesday, July 17, 2012

#7 West Virginia

Dana Holgorsen's lasting image of his first season at the helm of West Virginia was his 70-33 trouncing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers finished the season 10-3 and are now headed from the Big East to the Big XII where they will face much stiffer, but familiar competition to Holgorsen. Holgorsen spent 9 years in the Big XII and knows the difficulties the new opponents will bring for the Mountaineers.

The Mountaineers return 8 starters on an offense that ranked 15th in total offense, 92nd in rushing offense, and 6th in passing offense. This offense lived and died by the pass. The biggest cog of the West Virginia offense was quarterback Geno Smith. Smith threw for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions on 526 pass attempts. His discipline with the ball allowed him to turn this offense into one of the best in the country. Running back Dustin Garrison returns after a stellar freshman season that saw him run for 742 yards and 6 touchdowns. Garrison will probably have the same amount of carries this year (136) as he did last year due to the Mountaineers tendency to past first in pretty much every situation. West Virginia returns 3 starters in the receiving corps with the other new starter having plenty of experience. Returning starters Tavon Austin led the team in receptions with 101 for 1,186 yards and 8 touchdowns while Stedman Bailey led the team in receiving yards with 1,279 and 12 touchdowns. Ivan McCartney is the third returning starter and had 49 catches for 585 yards and 3 touchdowns. J.D. Woods looks to be the fourth starter in the wide receiving corps and only had 9 receptions for 67 yards last year. The offensive line returns 3 starters with center Joe Madsen, right guard Jeff Braun, and right tackle Pat Eger. Josh Jenkins will hold down the left guard position and Quinton Spain will start at left tackle. If this offense can continue to put up the passing numbers they did against Big East defenses in the Big XII, they will be right in the thick of things for the conference title.

West Virginia's defense returns 6 starters on a unit that finished ranked 33rd in total defense, 55th in rushing defense, and 35th in passing defense. The Mountaineers are going from a 3-3-5 defense to a 3-4 defense this year and look to improve their overall totals from last year. The defensive line returns 2 starters with nose tackle Jorge Wright and defensive end Will Clarke. Wright had 38 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks while Clarke had 34 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. Redshirt freshman Kyle Rose looks to make an impact at the other defensive end position this year. The linebacking corp returns 2 starters and 2 others with experience. Returning starters Jewone Snow and Terrence Garvin look to help new starters Doug Rigg and Josh Francis as they make the transistion. Snow had 42 tackles last year as well as 2 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Garvin had 72 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions. Rigg had 30 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 sack while Francis had 9 tackles last year. The secondary returns starting cornerback Pat Miller and starting strong safety Darwin Cook. Brodrick Jenkins moves into the starting role for the other cornerback slot and Travis Bell looks to be the starter at the Free Safety position. Miller had 66 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Cook 85 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 interceptions. Jenkins had 27 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Bell had just 10 tackles last year. This defense will be tested with bigger and better players as they enter into the Big XII. They must be able to defend the pass well and establish the line of scrimmage against the running based TCU and Kansas State teams. If they can keep their opponents in the low twenties the offense has enough fire power to outscore anybody in that conference.

I really like West Virginia as a contender for the Big XII title. Their schedule is quite manageable this year. They play three non-conference to open the season with Marshall at home, a neutral site game in Landover, Maryland against James Madison, and at home again for Maryland. The Mountaineers open up Big XII play with four very challenging games facing Baylor at home, back to back road trips to Texas and Texas Tech before returning home to face a feisty Kansas State team. A bye follows that game before hosting TCU on November 3rd and then travelling to Oklahoma State the following week. The Big XII game of the year ought to be Oklahoma visiting Morgantown on November 17th. After that massive game, the Mountaineers travel to Iowa State before finishing up the season at home against Kansas. I think the Mountaineers have 1 guaranteed loss this year and that will be Oklahoma. Every other game they have on their schedule is very winnable and I like them to finish 11-1 and end up in a BCS bowl as an at large team.

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