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You can read the entire West Virginia Mountaineeers preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#56 West Virginia
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dana Holgorsen , 17-9 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Shannon Dawson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Keith Patterson
West Virginia lost more than a chunk of offense when Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey moved on to the NFL. That leaves Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen scrambling. For 2013, he’ll oversee his first true competition at quarterback since his stop as an assistant in Houston in 2008. The prime contenders: junior Paul Millard, redshirt freshman Ford Childress and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. Childress passes the eye test with a 6'5", 234-pound frame and a sizzling fastball. Millard, 6'2", has been under Holgorsen’s watch longer, though, and completed 9-of-19 passes last season for 87 yards and two scores. Trickett played in 17 games over the last two seasons at FSU as EJ Manuel’s backup.
West Virginia will still put up numbers in Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” offense, but more emphasis might be placed on the running backs until the quarterbacks are settled. Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison are the top two returnees, but watch for junior college transfer Dreamius Smith, who wowed the coaches in the spring. The backfield picked up even more depth in late June, as Charles Sims decided to transfer from Houston. Sims is one of the nation's top all-around running backs and should help West Virginia's passing attack by being an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Also raising eyebrows was junior college transfer Kevin White at receiver. Holgorsen, though, is also looking to incoming freshmen for help to replace Austin and Bailey. The Mountaineers did receive some good news in mid-May, as Ivan McCartney rejoined the team after leaving during the 2012 season. New offensive line coach Ron Crook, hired from Stanford, has his work cut out for him. The interior of the line must be rebuilt. And the only sure-fire standout is 6'5", 335-pound left tackle Quinton Spain. Around Spain, though, Crook might have to work some magic.
WVU returns seven starters to its defense, but that might be good news for opponents. While WVU’s offense finished last season No. 10 nationally, the defense was on the other end of the spectrum at No. 108.
Before the bowl game, Holgorsen handed control of the defense to Keith Patterson, who installed a two-end, one nose front. Under Patterson, expect the nose guard position to be solid with senior Shaq Rowell and sophomore Christian Brown. At one end, Will Clarke, 6'7", 273, is back after proving he could at times be dominant.
At linebacker, WVU returns sophomore Isaiah Bruce, who was second on the team in tackles. But newcomers like d’Vante Henry and Brandon Golson could help provide a shakeup.
WVU’s defensive backs were torched in 2012. In pass defense, the Mountaineers finished 118th. And there’s not much reason to expect a vast improvement, especially at cornerback. Safety Karl Joseph, who led the Mountaineers in tackles as a true freshman, will be the foundation for rebuilding the secondary.
There’s a not a special teams hole to fill. It’s a crater. Gone is return specialist extraordinaire Austin, who had a touchdown on both return teams. Cornerback Brodrick Jenkins could handle the punt return duties this season. At kicker, West Virginia is replacing Tyler Bitancurt, who hit 11-of-19 last season, with redshirt freshman Josh Lambert. Holgorsen also signed punter Nick O’Toole from the junior college ranks. He was ranked by one scouting service as the nation’s No. 7 punter.
Early in spring drills, Holgorsen said his team “lost a lot of star power, but we have a lot of hungry kids.” It’s a good thing. Holgorsen, his players and Mountaineers fans have a lot to chew on. One can always expect offense from Holgorsen. But this might be his toughest challenge in years. Smith, Austin and Bailey rewrote WVU’s offensive records. Holgorsen will have to rely not only on a young quarterback, but also young receivers and a rebuilt offensive line. His defense is getting better talent, but not much should be expected there this season. On top of it all, Holgorsen has five new assistants.
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