Jenkins was a huge catch for West Virginia on the recruiting trail, but he has yet to live up to the hype. He played in five games as a freshman in 2008 and started all 13 games in 2009. Jenkins started 11 games in 2010 and ranked third among West Virginia linemen with 42 knockdowns. He did not play in 2011 due to a knee injury, but all signs point to a return to full strength by fall practice. The Mountaineers struggled to establish consistency on the offensive line last season, but Jenkins’ return should help to stabilize the left side of the line. The senior is capable of playing better, and he’s a key figure in West Virginia’s hopes to improve the offensive line in 2012.
With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey leading the way at receiver, it wasn’t easy for McCartney to be noticed last season. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2010, recording only one catch for four yards. McCartney snagged 49 passes last year for 585 yards and three touchdowns and posted two 100-yard games. He did not score a receiving touchdown after Oct. 1 and managed only one game of more than four catches over the final seven contests. McCartney’s numbers could improve in 2011, but he is still West Virginia’s No. 3 receiver with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey returning for 2012.
In his first season as a starter, Miller recorded 66 tackles and two interceptions last year. Prior to 2011, he played in 22 games and registered 22 stops with five passes broken up. Miller is expected to be a full-time starter in 2012 and will have to help fill the void left behind by departed All-Big East corner Keith Tandy. Miller and Brodrick Jenkins should form a solid one-two combination, but this is a group that will be tested early and often in Big 12 play.
With Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller out of eligibility, the Mountaineers are counting on a career year from Clarke. In a relief role last season, the junior recorded 34 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for a loss. His play last year should have eased coaches’ concerns about replacing Irvin and Miller, but Clarke likely won’t replicate the 14.5 combined sacks those two players registered in 2011. West Virginia is shifting from the 3-3-5 to the 3-4 and is moving from the Big East to the offensive-minded Big 12. Establishing the pass rush will be critical to West Virginia’s defensive outlook in 2012, which will require a big season from Clarke.
Cook is one of West Virginia’s top defenders, but is better known for his 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl, along with a tackle of the bowl’s mascot (Obie) in celebration. In Cook’s first season as a starter in 2011, he recorded 85 tackles and picked off two passes. With the Mountaineers changing defenses and shifting to an offensive-minded conference, Cook will need another solid season to allow West Virginia to stay in contention for the Big 12 title.
Madsen has been one of West Virginia’s unsung heroes over the last three years. He has been a key contributor to the line during his career in Morgantown, starting 38 games and earning second-team All-Big East honors last year. Madsen should be one of the Big 12’s top centers in 2012, while anchoring a line that is hoping to improve after a mediocre performance last year. Madsen doesn’t get much attention, but his play and leadership is a big reason why West Virginia could have one of the best offenses in college football in 2012.
Garvin is West Virginia’s top defensive player for 2012, and the success of the defense could ride on his performance. He missed spring practice with a knee injury, but will be transitioning to a hybrid safety/linebacker role in the fall. Garvin’s size and speed combination should be a good fit at the position, especially as West Virginia moves to the Big 12 and has to defend more spread offenses. Garvin has recorded back-to-back seasons of 70 tackles, while registering two interceptions and 3.5 sacks last year.
Bailey forms one half of West Virginia’s dynamic one-two receiver combination. He set a West Virginia single-season record with 1,279 receiving yards last year, while also leading the team with 12 touchdown catches. Bailey earned second-team All-Big East honors last year and recorded seven games of at least 100 receiving yards. Bailey was overshadowed by teammate Tavon Austin last season, but both players will be among the nation’s best receivers in 2012.
This 5-foot-9 speedster from Maryland is one of college football’s most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. Austin earned first-team All-Big East honors last season, catching 101 passes for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for 182 yards and one touchdown, scored twice and averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff return, while averaging 14.1 yards per punt return. Austin is a perfect fit as an inside receiver in West Virginia’s offense and should contend for All-American honors in 2012.
Adapting to a new offense didn’t hinder Smith’s progression into one of college football’s top 10 quarterbacks last season. After posting solid numbers in his first year as a starter in 2010 (2,763 yards, 24 touchdowns), Smith took aim at the West Virginia record book in coach Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack. He passed for a Mountaineer single-season record with 4,385 yards and tied a school mark with 31 touchdown tosses. Smith closed out the year on a high note, throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 Orange Bowl blowout over Clemson. He should once again be one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2012 and has to be considered among the top 15 Heisman candidates.
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