By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East
Spring practice: March 11-April 21
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6
Passing: Geno Smith, 346 of 526, 4,385 yds., 31 TD, 7 INTs
Rushing: Dustin Garrison, 136 car., 742 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Tavon Austin, 101 rec., 1,186 yds., 8 TDs
Tackles: Darwin Cook, 85
Sacks: Terence Garvin, 3.5
Interceptions: Four players tied with 2
Redshirts to watch: DL Kyle Rose, LB Jared Barber, DB Terrell Chestnut, WR Dante Campbell, LB Isaiah Bruce
Early Enrollees: DL Imarjaye Albury, QB Ford Childress, S Karl Joseph, WR Jordan Thompson, S Sean Walters
JUCO Transfer to watch: OL Mark Glowinski
Transfer to watch: DL Derrick Bryant (UCLA)
Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Washington, D.C.)
Sept. 22 Maryland
Sept. 29 Baylor
Oct. 6 at Texas
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 TCU
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Nov. 24 at Iowa State
Dec. 1 Kansas
Offensive Strength: In the first year executing coach Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, the Mountaineers averaged 346.9 passing yards per game last season. With another spring to pickup and tweak the pass-first attack, West Virginia should be even more comfortable with the offense in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith should contend for All-American honors, while Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin form one of the top receiving duos in the nation.
Offensive Weakness: The offensive line was a source of criticism and frustration for the coaching staff last season, and the jury is still out on this group in 2012. Three starters return up front, but left tackle Don Barclay – a first-team All-Big East selection – and right tackle Tyler Rader are gone. Center Joe Madsen is a good building block for this group, and guard Josh Jenkins is back after missing all of last season with an injury. However, the line is still one of West Virginia’s biggest question marks going into 2012. Running back is also an issue, especially with Dustin Garrison recuperating from a torn ACL suffered in Orange Bowl practices.
Defensive Strength: Despite the loss of cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Eain Smith, West Virginia’s secondary is in relatively good shape. Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins will get the nod at cornerback, while Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin should be one of the Big 12’s top safety combinations.
Defensive Weakness: New co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest have some rebuilding to do in the front seven. Ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin combined for 14.5 sacks last season and will be missed. Linebacker Najee Goode is another departed standout on defense, as he recorded 87 stops and picked up first-team All-Big East honors last year.
Spring Storylines Facing the Mountaineers
1. Goodbye Big East. Hello Big 12. Change is in the air in Morgantown this spring, as West Virginia has left the Big East in favor of the Big 12. The Mountaineers are somewhat of an odd geographic fit for the Big 12, but that could change with more expansion in the next few years. Regardless of geography, West Virginia should be a good addition to the Big 12 and will be in the mix to claim the league title in 2012. Change wasn't relegated just to the Mountaineers' conference, as defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel departed to Arizona, forcing the Mountaineers to bring in Joe DeForest from Oklahoma State and Keith Patterson from Arkansas State to share the co-defensive coordinator title. Holgorsen and DeForest have experience coaching in the Big 12, which will certainly come in handy as the Mountaineers adjust to life outside of the Big East.
2. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Mountaineers in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith should surpass last season’s yardage mark (4,385), while receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will both push for first-team All-Big 12 honors. Ivan McCartney had a strong sophomore year in 2011 and will build upon that success in 2012. However, the offense isn’t without concerns, especially on the line where two starters are gone. The offensive line was considered a weakness last season, but the return of guard Josh Jenkins from injury and the second year in Holgorsen’s scheme should be enough to expect some improvement from this group. While the offensive line won’t be an issue against most teams in the Big 12, the play of this unit will be an issue once Texas, Oklahoma and TCU come calling.
3. Outside of the offensive line, the biggest question mark on offense will be the rushing attack. Dustin Garrison had a solid freshman year, rushing for 742 yards and six touchdowns, but suffered a torn ACL in Orange Bowl practices. With Garrison’s status uncertain for preseason workouts, the Mountaineers need to figure out a contingency plan for the 2012 season. Shawne Alston ranked second on the team with 416 rushing yards last year and would figure to be the early frontrunner to replace Garrison. Sophomore Andrew Buie is also in the mix for playing time. The Mountaineers don’t need a 1,000-yard rusher to emerge, but they have to have someone who can help to take the pressure off quarterback Geno Smith. With Garrison sidelined indefinitely, it’s important for Alston and Buie to have a strong spring.
4. With a new defensive scheme and a change at coordinator, preseason workouts is an important time for the Mountaineers to find the right mix on defense for 2012. DeForest and Patterson have a tough rebuilding job up front, as ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller have finished their eligibility. The linebacking corps will miss Najee Goode, but there’s experience returning with Jewone Snow, Doug Rigg and Jared Barber back in teh mix. With the move to a 3-4 scheme, the linebackers will be a greater area of focus, especially in establishing a pass rush. The secondary ranked 35th nationally in pass defense last season, but that will be put to the test with better quarterbacks and receivers in the Big 12. With six starters returning, there’s plenty for Patterson and DeForest to work with. However, the Mountaineers need to quickly adjust to the new defensive scheme if they want to contend for the Big 12 title.
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