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You can read the entire team preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#12 West Virginia
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dana Holgorsen , 10-3 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Shannon Dawson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe DeForest
Coming off a record-setting 70–33 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, West Virginia fans aren’t merely excited about the 2012 Mountaineers offense. They’re giddy. The reasons? WVU will be in its second year under offensive whiz and head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers finished last season 15th nationally in total offense, averaging 469.5 yards per game. And they return seven starters, most notably weapons like quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Most of the line is returning as well.
Smith, the MVP of the Orange Bowl, set a single-season school record by throwing for 4,385 yards in Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” offense. The first line of receivers is exceptional. Austin, an inside speed receiver, is one of the nation’s best. The 5'9" senior was eighth nationally in receptions per game (7.8) and set a single-season school record with 101 catches for 1,186 yards.
The offensive line’s effectiveness against Big 12 defenses and the unsettled tailback position are the only question marks on offense. Dustin Garrison, last season’s leading rusher, tore his ACL in late December. Shawne Alston is the likely starter. Last season, Alston rushed for 416 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns.
Is West Virginia's Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?
While the Mountaineer offense seems loaded for bear, WVU fans might have to bear with a retooled defense as it makes the transition from a 3-3-5 odd stack to a 3-4 base that will also give 4-3 looks. Also, there are three new defensive assistants.
Perhaps the No. 1 concern is the defensive line. The Mountaineers lost two effective — and sometimes lethal — defensive ends in Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller. And there doesn’t seem to be much sizzle left.
West Virginia has experience in its linebacking corps, but how much playmaking is yet to be seen. Also, the Mountaineers need to find enough quality players to fill four spots in the new system.
The Mountaineers, however, should be fine in the secondary. All four projected starters, led by safety Darwin Cook and corner Pat Miller, have starting experience. Even three key reserves have seen significant action.
DE Bruce Irvin
As a junior in 2010, Irvin didn’t get a full complement of snaps, but still finished the year with 14 sacks, the best in the Big East. In 2011, he earned first-team All-Big East honors while finishing with 40 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
Geno Smith, QB—Smith is coming off his best season as a Mountaineer and ended the campaign by throwing six touchdowns and earning MVP honors of the Orange Bowl.
Tavon Austin, WR—Playmaking wide receiver should have another monster season in his second year under head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Stedman Bailey, WR—Bailey set school records with 1,279 yards and seven 100-yard receiving games and tied the school record with 12 receiving touchdowns.
Darwin Cook, S—Finished second on the team in tackles with 85, and scored on a fumble recovery in the Orange Bowl.
Terence Garvin, LB—A complete player who was fourth on the team last season with 72 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, and a pair of interceptions.
|Sept. 15th||at James Madison|
|Oct. 6th||at Texas|
|Oct. 13th||at Texas Tech|
|Oct. 20th||Kansas State|
|Nov. 10th||at Oklahoma State|
|Nov. 24th||at Iowa State|
Holgorsen is putting more emphasis on special teams in his second season as a head coach. He hired Joe DeForest away from Oklahoma State to serve as the Mountaineers’ defensive coordinator and to work with the WVU kickers. Tyler Bitancurt is back for his fourth season as the placekicker. He made 16-of-22 field goals as a junior and is 39-of-54 in his career. Corey Smith and Michael Molinari took turns shining and disappointing at punter. Smith, though, helped win last season’s Pitt game by averaging 57.3 yards per punt with two inside the 20. Austin is one of the nation’s elite return specialists.
There’s some concern whether WVU’s success in the Big East can translate to the Big 12. But the blowout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl has the Mountaineers walking tall, especially on the offensive side.
Smith should be one of the nation’s finest quarterbacks. He has the size at 6'3", 214 pounds, the arm strength, intelligence and, perhaps most important, a cool demeanor. Austin has speed to burn at receiver.
Defensively, there’s concern after Holgorsen scrapped the 3-3-5 odd stack scheme that’s been a staple of Mountaineer football.
The spotlight will burn brightly on both the offensive and defensive lines. Holgorsen, however, should help the transition after spending most of his career in and around the Big 12.
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