Three things we learned in the spring about the West Virginia Mountaineers:
1. Clint Trickett is the heavy favorite to open as the starting QB: Paul Millard and junior college transfer Skyler Howard battled to make a run at the starting QB job during the spring. Yet Trickett, who was out recovering from a shoulder injury, opened at the top of West Virginia’s post-spring depth chart. Barring another injury or a disastrous preseason, Trickett should be the starter when Mountaineers take the field in the opener vs. Alabama.
2. The backfield is loaded: The Mountaineers easily have the deepest stable of running backs in the Big 12. On top of returning Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood from last year’s rotation, Pitt transfer Rushel Shell and 2011 leading rusher Dustin Garrison both shined in the spring. Divvying up carries will be tricky, but the Mountaineers are stocked with talent in the backfield.
3. The depth is better: Coach Dana Holgorsen admitted a lack of depth had plagued West Virginia in its first two seasons in the Big 12. But all spring he touted the team’s improved depth, which includes seven returning starters on either side of the ball. More depth should help West Virginia stave off another late-season collapse in its new league.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Who is the answer at QB? Trickett will likely open as the starter, but that doesn’t mean he will stay there. Trickett was inconsistent at times, and at 180 pounds, prone to injury. Howard was unable to win the job in the spring, but he or incoming freshman William Crest could get another shot down the line if Trickett struggles or is sidelined with another injury.
2. Can the WRs make more plays? The Mountaineers return starting receivers Mario Alford, Daikiel Shorts and Kevin White, but collectively the trio produced only two 100-yard receiving games all last year. Part of that was due to the inconsistent QB play, but part of it was on them. The talent is there at receiver for West Virginia to be way more explosive in the passing game.
3. Will the new defensive regime make a difference? In two years in the Big 12, West Virginia has ranked ninth and last in the league in scoring defense. After coordinator Keith Patterson bolted for Arizona State, Holgorsen promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to coordinator, then hired longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. The two emphasized a new defensive mentality this spring. Whether they’ll be successful won’t be answered until the season.
One way-too-early prediction:
Despite facing a brutal schedule that could include three preseason top 10 opponents, West Virginia will get back to a bowl game, leading to Holgorsen returning as coach in 2015.