WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
2011 overall record: 10-3
2011 conference record: 5-2
Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (6), P/K (2)
Key losses: DE Bruce Irvin, LB Najee Goode, DE Julian Miller, S Eain Smith, CB Keith Tandy
2011 statistical leaders (*returners):
Rushing: Dustin Garrison* (742 yards)
Passing: Geno Smith* (4,385 yards)
Receiving: Stedman Bailey* (1,279 yards)
Tackles: Najee Goode (87)
Sacks: Bruce Irvin (8)
Interceptions: Keith Tandy (4)
Three spring answers
1. A clear defensive vision: Jeff Casteel packed up for Arizona and rejoined former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez in Tucson. He took the 3-3-5 with him. On the way to the Big 12, coach Dana Holgorsen went away from the defense that made a name for the Mountaineers. Now, he's got co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest getting his team ready to utilize a 3-4 with a pass rush built to confuse and fluster Big 12 quarterbacks.
2. Wealth overflows at receiver: Bailey and Austin make a great case for being the Big 12's No. 1 and 2 receivers entering the 2012 season, but now true freshman Jordan Thompson adds even more depth to the position. He provides another target for Smith.
3. No worries on offense: WVU is already one of the most productive offenses, and any doubt was eliminated during a quiet spring in West Virginia before one of the most anticipated seasons in school history. The passing game should be fine, but Shawne Alston filled in well for Garrison, who was out this spring after seriously spraining a knee during practices for the Orange Bowl.
Three fall questions:
1. Can the Mountaineers handle the heat? West Virginia is no stranger to big games. Its played LSU and Auburn in recent years and is 3-0 on the BCS stage. Can WVU handle the week-to-week grind of the Big 12 and difficult venues every week? The step up from the Big East won't be as great as TCU's from the Mountain West, but it's still going to be more difficult. WVU was the only Big East team ranked in the top 25 for most of the 2011 season. Six Big 12 teams will likely be ranked in the preseason.
2. How explosive is this offense in Year 2? Holgorsen can work some magic with his offense, and he'll have lots and lots of toys in 2012. Brandon Weeden didn't get a second year with the offensive wizard, but Holgorsen has high hopes for special talents in Smith and Austin, two players he can't complement enough. Is West Virginia the best offense in its new conference?
3. A clear vision, but will it work? West Virginia recruited to build a 3-3-5 scheme, but it'll try and piece together the 3-4 in a defense that lost its top three pass-rushers from 2011. Holgorsen knows what he wants to do schematically on defense, but there's certainly reason to doubt whether it can handle the huge jump in quality of offenses from the Big East to the Big 12.