West Virginia rebounded from a 4-8 mark in 2013 to finish 7-6 and earn its first winning record (5-4) in Big 12 action since joining the league. The Mountaineers return 16 starters for 2015, including talented running back Rushel Shell and defensive backs Daryl Worley (CB) and Karl Joseph (S). Coach Dana Holgorsen has this program trending in the right direction, but his 2015 team has a few holes to address this spring, including a quarterback battle and question marks on both lines of scrimmage.
5 Storylines to Watch in West Virginia’s Spring Practice
1. The Quarterbacks
West Virginia already has a good idea of what it has in its two quarterbacks vying for the starting role. Skyler Howard started the final two games of 2014 and finished the year with 829 passing yards and eight passing scores. Howard’s accuracy (50.9 percent) is one area to watch in 2015. William Crest was slated to work in the backup role last year. However, a shoulder injury sidelined the talented freshman in September after he rushed for 27 yards and completed three of four passes against Towson. The upside is clearly with Crest. Can he exit spring with a clear hold on the No. 1 job?
2. New Targets at WR
While the quarterback battle is expected to draw most of the offseason attention in Morgantown, West Virginia also has to find replacements for its top two receivers. Kevin White was one of the nation’s top receiving threats last year, catching 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 scores. Mario Alford also departs after recording 65 receptions for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns. This is a big spring for Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts to emerge as the go-to targets for the quarterback. Shelton Gibson, freshman Jovon Durante and junior college recruit Ka’Raun White are also names to watch this offseason.
3. Stabilizing the Offensive Line
The Mountaineers must replace arguably their best offensive linemen from last year’s group in guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. Some shuffling is already underway for line coach Ron Crook, as Adam Pankey (13 starts in 2014) is moving to guard after playing at left tackle last year. Marquis Lucas and Tyler Orlosky also return as starters, but which positions will they play? Could Lucas flip to left tackle? This spring is the first opportunity to sort out this unit.
4. Restock the Defensive Line
Under Tony Gibson’s direction last season, West Virginia limited conference opponents to 27.1 points per game. And with nine starters back, the Mountaineers could improve on that total in 2015. The biggest concern for Gibson has to be the depth in the trenches with the departure of Shaquille Riddick and Dontrill Hyman. Riddick earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after recording seven sacks in 2014. Kyle Rose and Noble Nwachukwu are back after productive 2014 campaigns, but Gibson still needs to find a third starter, as well as develop the depth needed to stop opposing offenses in the Big 12.
5. Replacements at Linebacker
Gibson’s busy spring continues with a few new faces stepping into starting roles at linebacker. Brandon Golson and Wes Tonkery have expired their eligibility, which leaves Shaq Petteway, Nick Kwiatkoski and Edward Muldrow as the unit’s top returners. Jared Barber also returns from a torn ACL, while Isaiah Bruce hopes to find the form that helped him rank second on the team in tackles in 2012.
Pre-Spring Outlook on West Virginia in the Big 12:
West Virginia has a few key voids to fill this offseason, but the middle of the Big 12 is open. The Mountaineers defeated Baylor in Morgantown and lost to TCU by just a point. This team has made progress since joining the Big 12 under coach Dana Holgorsen and should easily make a bowl in 2015. How high this team climbs in the standings revolves around solving quarterback battle and the new faces on the offensive and defensive lines. Surpassing last year’s win total wouldn’t be a surprise.