Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Prepare for a West Virginian invasion
By ESPN.com staff
We're looking back at the top 25 list today, but it's time to look eastward at another top 25 list, too.
Oklahoma State led the Big 12 with five players on the top 25 list, but the Big East?
West Virginia took home the title with seven players on the list, including No. 1 Geno Smith. To prep for the Mountaineers' arrival, here's what colleague Andrea Adelson had to say about the WVU players who cracked the list.
Click on each player for even more. Where will they fall in the Big 12 list? You'll have to wait until later this summer, friends, when we unveil the preseason list.
No. 1: Geno Smith, QB: There is no way West Virginia would have had another record-breaking offensive year and been one of the most explosive groups in the country without Smith. Take Smith away, and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are not nearly as effective. There is no denying that trio of players benefited from playing in the high-powered offense Dana Holgorsen brought with him from Oklahoma State. But one glance at what happened at Pitt should show everybody that there is no such thing as just being able to insert any warm body into a spread offense and have it work like magic.
No. 3: Tavon Austin, WR/KR: Austin's most impressive stat is this -- going into the Orange Bowl against Clemson, he had racked up 807 yards after the catch on the season. To me, that says all you need to know about his abilities not only as a receiver but an all-around playmaker for the Mountaineers. ... Austin did it all this season, and led the nation in all-purpose yards -- averaging 198 a game. That is an incredible amount for a single player, considering all of the Mountaineers' talented skill guys.
No. 7: Stedman Bailey, WR: Bailey was the most sure-handed and consistent receiver for the Mountaineers this past season and set career marks in every major category -- 72 receptions for 1,279 yards and 12 touchdowns. Working in the wide-open offense Dana Holgorsen brought with him surely benefited Bailey and Tavon Austin, who also has his spot secure higher in these rankings. Bailey also set a school record for consecutive 100-yard games with five. He actually had seven total, and they all happened in the span of eight games.
Unlike the first three, the next four players on the list won't be returning, but you can get a look at them, too.
No. 12: Najee Goode, LB: Perhaps most important to keep in mind -- Goode played all three linebacker positions this season. He started the year in the middle, then had to move to the strong side when Doug Rigg got hurt, and finished the year at the weak side. His versatility made him an incredible asset. Couple that with his productivity, and you see why he was a first-team Big East selection and landed right here on my year-end list.
No. 13: Bruce Irvin, DE: Irvin emerged as a force in 2010, with an amazing 14 sacks as a pass-rush specialist. Many anticipated bigger things in 2011, especially with his move into the starting lineup. But Irvin got off to a slow start and was particularly ineffective early in the season, as he had to fight off double teams and adjust to his new every-down role. West Virginia coaches smartly saw that and adjusted, pulling him out of the starting lineup. The result was a return of the Irvin of old. Irvin had one sack in the first five games of the season; he had 7.5 in the final eight.
No. 14: Julian Miller, DL: Against Cincinnati, Miller had seven tackles, and scored a touchdown on the most critical play of the year -- when Zach Collaros was sacked and fumbled in the end zone. Against Pitt, Miller had a career-high four sacks and 12 tackles; and against USF, he had four tackles, two for loss, and a pass breakup. On the year, he finished with six sacks and tied for a league high with three fumble recoveries. He forced two fumbles himself. His stats may not be earth shattering, but his value and importance to the team cannot be underestimated, and helped transform the Big East race.
No. 24: Keith Tandy, CB: Tandy had a bit of an up-and-down season, but he still was one of the best cornerbacks in the Big East. The way he helped shut down Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins in the Discover Orange Bowl after a 27-yard touchdown reception early in the game was probably the highlight of his season. There were more than a few interceptions he dropped, which probably made West Virginia fans pull their hair, but it also is important to remember that he was the best player in a secondary that had its share of struggles. The cornerback combination of Tandy and Brodrick Jenkins seemed to work best late in the season.