Big 12: Keith Patterson

Q&A: West Virginia DC Tony Gibson

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
Despite how excited he is about taking over West Virginia’s defense, Tony Gibson isn’t looking to reinvent things. He’s sticking with the Mountaineers’ 3-4 defense and terminology because, no matter what, his players need consistency.

Gibson is the fourth defensive coordinator at WVU in four years, following Jeff Casteel, Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson, who left this month for Arizona State. Now it’s time for Gibson, WVU’s safeties coach in 2013, to right the ship and fix a defense that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in scoring and total defense.

Before West Virginia begins spring practice on Sunday, Gibson took time to chat with about his new role and what he intends to change.

You’re 41 years old, but you’ve been in this business a while, haven’t you?

Gibson: This is Year 20, so as soon as I got done playing, I started right off the bat coaching. It’s been good for me; learned from a lot of great coaches I’ve been around, and [to have] the opportunity to be the defensive coordinator at West Virginia, I’m ecstatic about it and very excited and ready to get spring ball started.

I know you worked with Keith Patterson at Pittsburgh and I’m sure you knew he and Todd Graham were close, but were you surprised by his decision to leave?

Gibson: Yeah, a little bit. I don’t know the whole story or what played into it, but guys gotta do what they’ve gotta do in this coaching profession. I guess it was time for him to move on, and it opened up a window for me, so that’s a good thing, I guess.

I’m sure your safeties were excited, but how did the rest of the players take the news that you’re running the defense?

Gibson: They were real excited. Coach [Dana] Holgorsen told the defense a few weeks ago and those guys were really good. And, you know, when coach Patterson left, I wanted to see where the mindset of the linebackers were at that time and talked to them and the defensive line and the DBs. The kids were fine and they said, ‘Hey, coach, we’re good to go. Who’s it going to be at coordinator?’ At that time nobody knew, and I got a lot of support. The kids were asking if I had a shot to get it. We talked about it a little bit and it made me feel good as a coach that they had full trust in coach Holgorsen to hire the right guy.

[+] EnlargeTony Gibson
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTony Gibson is West Virginia's fourth defensive coordinator in four years.
So players were definitely encouraging you to go for this job?

Gibson: Oh yeah, no doubt. That was one of the first things a couple of them said to me that day when he announced that coach Patterson left. It makes you feel good as a coach to know that hopefully you’re doing things the right way when the kids support you and are asking, ‘Hey, are you going to get it? We want you to be the guy.’ That made me feel really good as a coach.

You’ve said you’re not looking to change things a whole lot in how you guys operate that defense. How important is that continuity?

Gibson: It’s very big. Our kids have learned the system and I’m the fourth coordinator in four years. The No. 1 thing we want to make sure we do is have continuity with those guys and make sure that they trust in what’s going on. We’re going to keep the terminology the same for the kids.

Do you see any effects of that constant change in leadership?

Gibson: Kids are resilient. They’re going to bounce back. These kids are hungry and a little embarrassed of what happened a year ago. They’re working hard right now and I think they’re ready to get rolling on spring ball, and I think they’re excited about it.

Now that you’re in charge, how would you diagnose the defense’s issues of 2013? How much did injuries limit this unit’s potential?

Gibson: I could feel and see the vibe you were getting from the kids early in the year, especially after the win against Oklahoma State; you could see our kids starting to get confidence on defense. And then the Baylor game, obviously, we all know what happened there. And then the injuries started and our kids’ confidence, moving guys around week to week, trying to fill holes and get our best 11 guys, it got very difficult for the players, for the staff, for everybody just trying to fix it and put a Band-Aid on it. It got out of control as far as injuries go, and their confidence was lost a little bit.

One week a guy like [freshman] Daryl Worley played three, four, five different spots during the season. We started moving Karl Joseph around. Your guys that you have in spots you’re really counting on, you start moving them and now it’s a new position to learn in three or four days. It’s difficult and hard.

Any players you’re excited about that the rest of the Big 12 will find out about quickly this fall?

Gibson: A kid like Daryl Worley, with the miles we got out of Daryl as a freshman in this league; he played big in a lot of games. We left him on an island a lot last year late in the season and he started playing with a tremendous amount of confidence. He’s just a kid that sticks out in my mind. His work ethic and all the things you need to be a great player, he possesses right now. He’s not where he wants to be, but I can see that kid being a big-time player for us in the future.

Did you have battles with new associate head coach Tom Bradley when recruiting the state of Pennsylvania?

Gibson: Yeah, Tom and I met and recruited against each other for probably the last 15 years. We would recruit some of the same kids. Him and I have always stayed in touch, and when we had this opportunity come open, Dana and I talked and we called Tom up and said "hey." He’s been very helpful and I think he can bring so much to us.

[+] EnlargeDravon Henry
Jared Shanker/ESPNESPN 300 athlete Dravon Henry will get a chance to play cornerback right away at West Virginia.
You recruited Dravon Henry, a ESPN 300 athlete, for this class. What can he do for your defense?

Gibson: He’s very versatile. He can play corner or safety. We’re going to start him out at corner and try to get him in a spot where he can have success early and all that. We tell kids all the time, especially DBs in this league: There’s two kinds of DBs – those who get exposed and those who get drafted. You’re going to get challenged every week in this league. But he’s a kid who is going to work and get himself right and come in here and compete right off the bat.

Has Dana taught you to embrace Red Bulls, or was that already a part of your lifestyle?

Gibson: Nah, I drink 'em every once in a while, maybe on game day or if I’m feeling tired going out to a practice. But yeah, we have some around.

Last question: In your opinion, when you survey this program, what’s it going to take to get West Virginia back to competing for a Big 12 title?

Gibson: Well, what we have to do as a defensive staff, the one thing we looked at going into the offseason – and if you just look at our games – first we need to learn how to finish. So many times, if we could’ve just finished in the fourth quarter when we had the lead, we would’ve won nine games. We had double-digit leads in a few of those games and ended up finding a way to give it away in the end. Not taking anything away from the teams we played, because every team we played in the Big 12 can compete with anyone in the country. But our kids need to learn how to finish and play with confidence, and we’ve got to eliminate big plays on defense -- no one-play drives or big passes and big runs.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will be under immense pressure to win next season. And now, he'll have to win without his defensive coordinator.

Thursday, the school confirmed that Keith Patterson had "voluntarily left the program," and Friday, Arizona State announced it had hired Patterson.

Patterson served as Sun Devils coach Todd Graham's defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh before taking the job at West Virginia.

“I want to thank Keith for his two years that he spent coaching in our program,” Holgorsen said in a statement. “He was a valuable member of our staff, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Holgorsen is right. Patterson indeed was a valuable member of the West Virginia staff.

Patterson arrived in Morgantown in 2012 as the co-defensive coordinator under Joe DeForest. After a disastrous season in which the Mountaineers ranked 114th nationally in points allowed, Holgorsen demoted DeForest and made Patterson the lone coordinator.

Patterson didn't exactly turn West Virginia into the '85 Chicago Bears. But the Mountaineers showed improvement, especially early in the season, despite being put in tough situations by a mediocre offense that didn't come alive until the final month of the season. Unfortunately, mild improvement wasn't enough to push West Virginia into a bowl game, as the Mountaineers finished out the season losing six of seven games.

West Virginia already was going to have to replace its two best defensive players in safety Darwin Cook and defensive end Will Clarke. With Patterson gone now, too, Holgorsen faces a monumental task of turning the Mountaineers around in 2014 despite facing major questions at quarterback, a brutal schedule, and, now, a lack of continuity on the defensive staff. West Virginia will have a fourth different defensive coordinator in as many years, unless Holgorsen promotes DeForest back to coordinator, which, after the 2012 debacle, is unlikely.

The degree of difficulty was already going to be significant for West Virginia. The Mountaineers open next season with Alabama. They also have to go to Maryland, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The projected top two teams in the league, Oklahoma and Baylor, go to Morgantown, where the Mountaineers will also likely be underdogs. Yet at the very least, West Virginia will have to win one of those seven games just to get bowl eligible.

Meanwhile, quarterback Clint Trickett is still trying to heal from the battering he took last season. Paul Millard is playing baseball. Ford Childress has reportedly left school for good. And junior-college transfer Skyler Howard, while promising, is unproven.

Even with All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims out of eligibility, the Mountaineers still have skill talent. West Virginia also recruited well there this year, even landing ESPN 300 running back Donte Thomas-Williams over Florida on signing day. Yet unless the Mountaineers get better and more consistent quarterback play, all that skill will amount to little in the win-loss column.

Even with the quarterback and schedule issues, West Virginia's defensive trajectory under Patterson was one reason why West Virginia fans were hopeful the Mountaineers could overcome these obstacles next season.

Now, in his make-or-break season, Holgorsen will have to overcome losing Patterson, too.
Thanks for all your questions in today's chat. Here's where you can find the full transcript. If you didn't get your question posted, send it to the mailbag and you could see it on the Big 12 blog on Friday:

Michael (Flower Mound, TX): Could Baylor really be the best in the Big 12?

Jake Trotter: Sure, why not? They've looked like the best team so far along with Oklahoma. And they get the Sooners in Waco on Nov. 7.

Robert (El Paso): I think Kliff Kingsbury has done a pretty good job so far, but he went for a fourth down against TCU that was ill-advised. What are your thoughts on Kliff so far?

Jake Trotter: Kliff has been the Big 12 coach of the year so far, in my humble opinion.

ouwooferman (Houston): Bigger environment: Playing at ND or BU?

Jake Trotter: Notre Dame. Better team? Baylor.

Kyle (Iowa): What do you think is key for Iowa State to upset Texas? Establishing a running game or will it be more on the defensive side of the ball?

Jake Trotter: Getting Aaron Wimberly going. He's the sparkplug in that offense. If they can get him in space, they have a chance to move the ball.

Kevin (Reno, NV): What took Dana Holgorsen so long to place Clint Trickett in the starting lineup? I thought he was penciled in when he arrived to Morgantown?

Jake Trotter: Strange, right? I thought for sure Holgorsen would give Trickett a shot during the OU game when it had become evident WV was not scoring with [Paul] Millard at QB.

Jeff (Dallas): Better Defense - OU or TCU?

Jake Trotter: Slight edge to TCU when all its guys are healthy.

JakeJones (OKC): Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert this weekend?

Jake Trotter: Texas. Iowa State found its offensive footing in Tulsa, and Ames on a Thursday night -- that's a setting nobody wants to deal with.

Larry (TX): Which would you consider the better coaching job, USC or Texas (assuming Mack Brown gets smoked by OU)?

Jake Trotter: Texas. More money. More support.

Ryan (Tyler, TX): Jake, who will the Longhorns look to replace DeLoss Dodds?

Jake Trotter: First name I thought of was Oliver Luck. Luck has a law degree from Texas.

Allen (Houston): Still not buying Baylor. When they play these teams with athletes on D, they wont be putting up all those points. Same old Baylor, with a ceiling of 9 wins. Won’t be shocked to see WVU beat them handily.

Jake Trotter: There's always the possibility they become this year's 2012 West Virginia. I don't see it. This Baylor defense is better than last year's West Virginia defense. And this Baylor offense is more complete than last year's West Virginia offense, which really had just 3-4 players.

Jesse (SC): Should a conference expansion occur, what teams would be the prime candidates for the Big 12?

Jake Trotter: The only schools worth adding at this point would be in the ACC. But that would require the ACC crumbling before the Big 12.

Josh (Dallas): Still taking a wait-and-see approach with the entire top 3. None are yet to have a performance against a quality team that makes you think they are playing on the level of a clear favorite. Thoughts?

Jake Trotter: I think that's somewhat fair, but winning in Notre Dame is no small feat, even if the Irish are not as good as last season.

Drew (Houston): Love the work Jake, definitely helps me get through the week until Saturday's games. Is it just me or do fans of other teams seem really upset that Baylor isn't an automatic “W” for their team anymore? Seems like any praise Baylor gets, they try to point out "they haven't played anyone" argument or bring up Baylor's past history claiming they've never finished close to the top of the B12 so they can't this year. While I agree they haven't been tested yet, they sure have obliterated the teams they've face, which is what great teams should do. I've got news for them, this Baylor squad is good and worth all of the attention it is getting.

Jake Trotter: Some outside fans don't believe yet, which is somewhat understandable... what has Baylor ever done other than win 10 games in 2011? But per the eye test, this team is legit, and I think they will begin to prove that as the competition level rises.

Big Ferm (San Diego): As a Baylor fan, it's time to quit talking about it and be about it. Will a convincing victory over WVU on Saturday legitimize the Bears as a real threat to win the Big 12?

Jake Trotter: Baylor won't be legitimate in the eyes of many unless they beat OU Nov. 7. That will be their chance to win the doubters over, too.

Tony (Richmond, CA): Has Sterling Shepherd now officially arrived?

Jake Trotter: Thought he arrived last season?

Jon (Atlanta): Considering Maryland blanked WVU, how much does that say about OK State?

Jake Trotter: Maryland didn't face Trickett. He would have made a difference in that game, though not the ultimate outcome. But it doesn't bode well for OSU. The defense played OK, but didn't dominate an offense that had been completely inept previously.

Dillon (Bedford, PA): Do you think Keith Patterson is due for a raise? It's early but the improvement in WV's defense is pretty amazing so far.

Jake Trotter: It's amazing. The Mountaineers have been stout. Big test coming this weekend.

CJ (Norman): What's your favorite NCAA football food?

Jake Trotter: Ballgame food? Corndogs. Usually walk down from the press box during halftime of games I'm covering to get one.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
The Sooners notched a big nonconference road win for the Big 12, West Virginia’s defense came up big in an upset of Oklahoma State, and TCU finally found some offense against SMU.

What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 5:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsQuarterback Blake Bell, making his second career start, was 22-of-30 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns in leading Oklahoma past Notre Dame.
The Sooners are a different team with Bell: This question has to be asked: How did Blake Bell not win the starting quarterback job during the preseason? Since taking over for Trevor Knight, Bell has been superb, leading the Sooners to a big 35-21 victory Saturday at Notre Dame. Bell completed 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns for a Total QBR of 79.1 (scale of 0 to 100), which almost certainly will go up once the strength of Notre Dame’s defense is factored into the equation. Bell also didn’t turn the ball over, as OU controlled the game from beginning to end. Save for a Nov. 7 showdown in Waco, the Sooners’ remaining slate doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did a month ago. With Bell running the show at this level, OU is very capable of winning every game left on its schedule.

The West Virginia defense appears legit: The performance against Oklahoma State was the best by a West Virginia defense since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers controlled the line of scrimmage to shut down OSU’s vaunted running game, and the secondary laid the lumber, knocking receivers Josh Stewart and Jhajuan Seales out of the game with big hits. The 21 points, in fact, were the fewest scored by a Cowboys offense in a loss since the 2009 Cotton Bowl. West Virginia did give up 37 to Maryland a week ago, but the six turnovers from the West Virginia offense had a lot to with that. In holding the Bedlam schools to a combined 37 points, Keith Patterson’s unit has now locked up, perennially, two of the Big 12’s highest-scoring offenses. The Mountaineers will get their shot at another on Saturday in Waco, and Baylor’s high-flying attack will provide the toughest test to date. But the West Virginia defense will give Baylor its toughest challenge yet as well.

Oklahoma State not the same offensively: The Cowboys have basically played two teams with a pulse and scored only 21 points both times. The Pokes seems to really be missing former coordinator Todd Monken and running back Joseph Randle, maybe even more than anybody thought they would. The Cowboys never found a flow offensively in Morgantown with Mike Yurcich’s play-calling, and Randle’s successor, Jeremy Smith, finished with just 1 yard on 15 carries. Given J.W. Walsh’s limitations throwing the ball downfield, it’s been awhile since an Oklahoma State offense had this many vulnerabilities.

TCU offense gains confidence with new faces: The Horned Frogs offense finally came alive late in the third quarter of a 48-17 win against SMU. And it came alive via plays from some new faces. True freshman Ty Slanina hauled in a 20-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie. On TCU’s next possession, former Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story took a 56-yard pass to the house to ignite the rout. Then freshman Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 51 yards to set up another touchdown. Going into the SMU game, Slanina, Story and Echols-Luper had a combined five touches through three games. The trio, however, figures to be a big part of the Horned Frogs' attack going forward, including next weekend in Norman.

OU at Baylor looking like the Big 12’s biggest game: With the Cowboys’ loss in Morgantown, OU-Baylor in Waco on Nov. 7 is looking more and more like the game of the year in the Big 12. Several other pivotal matchups remain (TCU-OU, the Red River Rivalry, Tech-OU, Baylor-OSU, Baylor-Tech, Bedlam). And there are still other teams (Tech, TCU, OSU, even Texas) that could play their way to the top of the conference title race. But as of today, OU-Baylor is looking like the game that will have more conference title implications than any other.

Lunch links: WVU defense's emphasis

July, 3, 2013
This is amazing.
Four Big 12 teams will kick off their spring games this weekend. We'll be offering up a preview of each throughout the day.

West Virginia

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

What you need to know:
  • Tickets are $10 each.
  • Defense will wear blue, offense will wear gold.
What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle. There's not going to be much settled in this race on Saturday. It's still too close to call, and I'm betting even a dominant performance by Ford Childress or Paul Millard won't be enough for Dana Holgorsen to designate one a starter. Still, this will be one of the first times they take meaningful (in the most relative sense of the word) snaps with a real crowd in the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium. I expect both to put up really good numbers, but just how they do it should be fun to watch.
  • No defensive busts. That was the name of the game for West Virginia's defense last season. Keith Patterson is in charge of playcalling now, and can his maturing defense keep from losing guys over the top? Will it take notice when a running back leaks out of the backfield? Can it make tackles in the open field? All of that was problematic for the Mountaineers last season, but we might be able to see some flashes of progress this time around.
  • Where are the playmakers? Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey have gone on to fry bigger fish (and cornerbacks) in the NFL, and a slew of transfers means WVU is looking for a lot of new faces in the passing game. Sophomore KJ Myers broke through to earn a starting spot for now at one receiver position, joined by juco transfer Kevin White and inside receiver Connor Arlia. Jordan Thompson has been passed up on the depth chart by Arlia after a big spring and quiet fall, but there will be a lot of passes to go around. We might get a clearer picture of how this will shake out after Saturday.
SoonerNation's Brandon Chatmon filling in for Mr. Ubben with today's lunch links.

QB race, defense shaping up at WVU

March, 20, 2013
West Virginia is only a handful of practices into its spring workouts, and thus far, there hasn't been much separation between quarterbacks Ford Childress and Paul Millard, who are competing to replace Geno Smith. It doesn't sound like incoming talents Logan Moore and Chavas Rawlins have found their way into the competition, either.

"They are letting Ford and I go at it right now," Millard told reporters after Tuesday's practice. We are taking half and half with the reps, so it is all 50/50 right now, and we are just going out and trying to get better each and every day."

The race certainly felt like a 50/50 shot heading into practice, so it's good to see the reps are being split accordingly. It's a little early to expect much separation, but that will come with scrimmages throughout spring.

Ultimately, West Virginia's offense will be fine. The focus this spring has been on a defense playing under new leadership in Keith Patterson, who took over play-calling duties from Joe DeForest after the Mountaineers finished last in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

"With coach Patterson, we got to touch on it during the bowl game. He gave us an insight of what it is going to be and what we have to look forward to. Now that we have seen it, he is just an old-fashioned coach that wants you to run to the ball and give effort and everything else will take care of itself," cornerback Brodrick Jenkins said.

Plenty has been written and said about West Virginia's struggling defense, which gave up more than 43 points a game in conference play and surrendered 78 plays longer than 20 yards in 2012, both worst in the league. The Mountaineers need help to see major improvement from those numbers, but they're apparently using some of that criticism as fuel.

"Last summer before camp, (defensive line) coach (Erik) Slaughter was telling us how the media was saying that the D-line was going to be the worst and it is going to be our fault that we lose every game. We took it personally, to be honest. Coach Slaughter said it to us every day -- 'you guys are the worst and you want to be first.' That is what they are preaching now," defensive lineman Shaq Rowell said. "Our defense as a total was eighth in the Big 12. I thought we were 10th with the way we played. It was discouraging to see how we played last year. This year we are just working hard and training hard for spring ball, and we are just looking forward to better things this year."
West Virginia's spring practice is already underway. Let's take a closer look.

Schedule: West Virginia began the first of its 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices on Sunday, which will conclude on April 20 with the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game at Milan Puskar Stadium.

What's new: To quote one Andy Dwyer: "Ummm, A WHOLE LOT!" To my knowledge, there aren't any super straws roaming around Morgantown, but there are a whole lot of new changes on offense and on the defensive coaching staff. We'll tackle each of those a bit later in the post.

New faces: Seven players from the 2013 recruiting class will be practicing this spring for the Mountaineers, headlined by a pair of juco signees who could have an immediate impact. Receiver Kevin White is a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from a junior college in Pennsylvania, who could help boost a depleted receiving corps, and Kansas native Dreamius Smith, a 5-10, 215-pound running back, is in Morgantown after a huge juco career that included a national title. They'll be joined by QB Chavas Rawlins, RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Daikiel Shorts, S Malik Greaves and LB Hodari Christian.

All eyes on: The quarterbacks. Geno Smith grew into an NFL first-round pick under Dana Holgorsen, but he's gone, and WVU will have one of the highest-quality quarterback competitions in the league. Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress will go head to head this spring. Millard has the experience, and if I were guessing, I'd say Childress has the fan vote. Holgorsen and his staff's vote is the only one that matters, and they'll be campaigning all spring. This one looks like it'll be tight, but I liked what I saw from both when I visited Morgantown last spring and saw them up close.

Much to prove: Nobody's got more to prove than the defense, which proved exactly nothing in its first year in the Big 12. It looked unprepared to handle the high-powered offenses, and outside of some good debuts from freshmen Karl Joseph and Isaiah Bruce, looked pretty short on overall talent. Keith Patterson is taking the play-calling reins from Joe DeForest and cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts was shown the door in favor of Brian Mitchell, who will try and fix a problem position from 2012.

Question marks: WVU had one of the best receiving duos in Big 12 history last season with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey stringing together seasons that were certainly worthy of a Biletnikoff Award in several other seasons. They're gone, and transfers mean five of WVU's top six receivers are all gone, leaving sophomore and spring 2012 breakout star Jordan Thompson behind as the top target after a quiet 2012 season once the fall arrived. It needs to find targets fast, and that could be influenced heavily by which guys develop chemistry with which quarterbacks, and which QB eventually wins the job.

Don't forget about: DL Will Clarke. He wasn't super strong last season, but he's a physical freak who might progress in Year 2 of this defensive scheme. The 6-7, 273-pounder moved to defensive tackle last year, and made 6.5 tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks. It didn't meet his expectations, but as a fifth-year senior in 2013, he might go out with a bang.

Offseason to-do list: West Virginia

January, 22, 2013
Every year, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's take a look, starting with West Virginia.

1. Sort out the quarterbacks. I actually like both of these guys, but expect a high-quality quarterback competition this offseason between Paul Millard and Ford Childress. We've written a lot about Texas quarterbacks lately, and both Millard (Flower Mound) and Childress (Houston) both hail from the state. Dana Holgorsen has crafted a whole lot of great quarterbacks, and I like the chances for either Millard or Childress to be the next in line. I got a good look at both last spring, and though Millard has the edge in experience, don't be surprised if Childress edges out his older competition.

2. Find a defensive solution. The changes have come fast for WVU's defensive staff, and the biggest two decisions were moving Keith Patterson up to defensive play-caller and firing cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts. Longtime Oklahoma State coach Joe DeForest is still co-defensive coordinator, but the defense is what held West Virginia back last season, much more so than an inconsistent running game. There's a lot to fix defensively, but most of it is in the passing game. WVU was serviceable stopping the run. The task is simple this spring: Fix it.

3. Figure out who it can count on as playmakers. WVU had an exodus of receivers late in the season when Ivan McCartney and Travares Copeland transferred, and now has to deal with those consequences. Stedman Bailey predictably left early for the NFL and Tavon Austin graduated, but it's time for an overhaul for the offense. J.D. Woods is gone, too. West Virginia's leading receiver returning from last season's team? Jordan Thompson, a promising freshman who caught 13 passes for 85 yards (though running back Andrew Buie, who will be a junior, did catch 28 balls for 318 yards). Beyond him, there's Connor Arlia, who caught seven passes for 43 yards. Can WVU find a new breakout star this spring?
The silly season can get dizzying at times. We'll update this if necessary, but here's where the Big 12 coaching carousel has currently landed after a few big spins.

  • No changes.
  • Head coach Art Briles was reportedly contacted by Arkansas and Texas Tech, but signed a new extension with Baylor and hasn't expressed interest in any jobs or admitted to any interviews.
  • No changes.
  • Head coach Paul Rhoads reportedly drew interest from Wisconsin, but Rhoads went on the record this week to say he has no interest in replacing Bret Bielema in Madison.
  • No changes.
  • No changes.
  • Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was a candidate for the Louisiana Tech opening last week, but reportedly turned down the job. The Bulldogs eventually hired Skip Holtz to replace Sonny Dykes.
  • Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell has also reportedly drawn interest from other schools, but it sounds like he's staying at Oklahoma.
  • Offensive coordinator Todd Monken left to become the head coach at Southern Miss.
  • Head coach Mike Gundy reportedly interviewed with both Tennessee and Arkansas and some local reports even indicated that he had accepted the Arkansas job, but they ultimately proved to be false. Gundy has since gone on record saying there's "no question" he'll be the Cowboys' head coach in 2013.
  • Defensive coordinator Bill Young on if he'll return next season or retire: "I don’t know, I don’t know," Young told The Oklahoman. "I’m going to think about it."
  • Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left to become the head coach at Arkansas State.
  • Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite replaces Harsin as the playcaller and will coach quarterbacks now. Texas plans to replace him as running backs coach after the season ends.
  • Receivers coach Darrell Wyatt was promoted to co-offensive coordinator.
  • Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz reportedly interviewed with Florida International, but removed himself from consideration and will stay at Texas.
  • No changes.
  • Head coach Gary Patterson was reportedly a leading candidate to replace John L. Smith at Arkansas, but there were no reports of interviews or significant contact between the two parties.
  • Head coach Tommy Tuberville left to become the head coach at Cincinnati.
  • Offensive coordinator Neal Brown left to become the offensive coordinator at Kentucky on Mark Stoops' staff.
  • Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury accepted an offer to replace Tuberville as Tech's head coach.
  • Ex-Red Raiders Kevin Curtis and Eric Morris will join Kingsbury's staff. Curtis told reporters he will likely coach the cornerbacks. Morris' role on the staff is still undetermined. He previously coached inside receivers for Mike Leach at Washington State.
  • Dana Holgorsen relieved cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts of his duties and moved co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson to defensive playcaller, replacing co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest as playcaller. DeForest is still on staff.
  • Graduate assistant Andrew McGee (who led the Big 12 in interceptions at Oklahoma State in 2010, with five) will coach cornerbacks heading into the bowl game, but WVU will find a permanent replacement after the season.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

The Big 12 power rankings are heavily influenced by what each team did in the previous week, and aren't necessarily a reflection of the Big 12 standings.

Think of it this way: As of right now, this is how well each Big 12 team is playing. Here's how I slot it to begin the season:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners have an awkward opener, kicking things off on the road out in the desert against UTEP at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Still, we'll get a first look at a revamped offensive line and the new, young receivers Landry Jones will be throwing to all season. Look out for a coming out party from Trey Metoyer, the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.

2. West Virginia: West Virginia plays Saturday's first game, kicking off against in-state rival Marshall at noon. The Big 12 newcomers have all the offense they need, but what will the pass rush look like with new defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson?

3. Kansas State: K-State opens with Missouri State on Saturday night, with Collin Klein's revamped arm on display after an offseason of development. Everyone's watching that. What they should be watching? How does the offensive line look after replacing three starters?

4. Texas: The Longhorns settled on David Ash at quarterback, but the season opener Saturday night against Wyoming on the Longhorn Network. The defense will be fiendishly fun to watch this year, but how much better is Ash? We'll get somewhat of a feel in this one.

5. TCU: Oh, you poor Frogs. TCU is officially a Big 12 member, but has to sit and watch all Saturday as the rest of the Big 12 opens their respective seasons. It gives Amon G. Carter Stadium one more week to prepare for the debut of its facelift, but by the time it does next week against Grambling, 13 Big 12 games will have been completed.

6. Oklahoma State: The defending Big 12 champs are the sixth team in the mix for a Big 12 title in 2012, but their hopes rest on the 18-year-old shoulders of Wes Lunt, a true freshman we haven't heard much out of all summer or fall camp. The Pokes don't know who his top target will be just yet, but the defense that supports the offense should be improved from 2011. We'll see them open up against the poor saps at Savannah State (yuck) on Saturday night.

7. Baylor: The post-RG3 era doesn't officially kick off until Sunday, when Nick Florence takes a snap against Baylor's old Southwest Conference rival, SMU. Last year's opener against TCU proved to be one of the most memorable games of the season. Florence and receivers Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese have the firepower to outgun the Mustangs in a shootout. Hyped transfer Lache Seastrunk will make his long-awaited debut after coming back home from Oregon.

8. Texas Tech: Tech opens against Northwestern State on Saturday night. That's no big challenge. Staying healthy could be after two injury-riddled years to start the Tommy Tuberville Era. Keep an eye on how running back Eric Stephens looks after returning from a catastrophic knee injury last season.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones should be challenged in their 3:30 p.m. visit fron Tulsa. Steele Jantz quarterbacked ISU to three fourth-quarter comebacks to open last season, and he may need another one. Paul Rhoads' Cyclones are a slight underdog in this windy weather showdown.

10. Kansas: Kansas' last coach, Turner Gill, opened with a disastrous 6-3 loss against FCS outfit North Dakota State two years ago. This time, Charlie Weis takes on South Dakota State. He's got a better team. Expect a better result Saturday for the former Notre Dame coach and a former Irish quarterback, Dayne Crist.

Opening camp: West Virginia Mountaineers

August, 10, 2012
Camp is open up in Morgantown. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: West Virginia.

Media's predicted finish: Second (received seven first-place votes).

Biggest storyline: The Big 12 offered West Virginia a life raft out of the crumbling Big East, which lost all but two founding members by the time the Mountaineers left for greener pastures down South. Now, it's time to answer the question of whether or not a Big East power could win big in a much tougher conference. The Mountaineers won the league or a share of it six times since 2003, including three BCS bowl wins in three trips. WVU knocked off Oklahoma in a memorable Fiesta Bowl route, but that was one game. Time to put up or shut up every single week in big games in a loaded Big 12 for 2012.

Biggest question mark: Pass rush. West Virginia lost pretty much everybody that produced their pass rush from last season, and now, they're moving to a brand-new system, a 3-4 under Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be tough to replace, and now, in the Big 12, they're going to play much faster, more skilled offenses with quarterbacks who are taught to get the ball out of their hands and into the hands of guys who can make plays in the open field.

Who needs to step up: The passing game. These guys have gotten all the press this offseason, and simply put, must be great. The defense may demand it. You can win and win big in this league with a defense that's just OK, and West Virginia has the firepower to do it. Think Baylor in 2011, but with upgrades on defense. If West Virginia's going to be a factor in the Big 12 title race, Geno Smith has to validate his status as the league's preseason Offensive Player of the Year, helping Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin both log one more 1,000-yard season apiece. The trio must, above all, be consistent. One bad day and there's a long list of teams in the Big 12 that can beat WVU.

Fun fact: The Big 12 is just 1-4 against West Virginia in bowl games. Maybe the Mountaineers can petition to have every game this year played at a neutral site?

On the mend: Running back Shawne Alston held down the spot in spring camp, but sophomore Dustin Garrison is back after tearing his ACL in Orange Bowl practices. The shifty, 5-foot-8, 180-pounder averaged nearly 5.5 yards a carry last year, racking up 742 yards on just 136 carries, with six scores.

Breaking out: LB Terence Garvin. Garvin sat out the spring after undergoing knee surgery, but he'll take over the Star linebacker position that Shaun Lewis took control of to win Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010 at Oklahoma State. DeForest brought the position over from Stillwater, and Garvin's a speedy converted safety who could make tons of plays in the scheme. He proved himself as a playmaker in the Big East, but across the Big 12, he's basically an unknown. That may change quick this fall.

West Virginia spring wrap

May, 9, 2012

2011 overall record: 10-3

2011 conference record: 5-2

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (6), P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Geno Smith, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Tavon Austin, RB Dustin Garrison, RB Shawne Alston, S Darwin Cook, S Terence Garvin

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.

Spring superlatives: West Virginia

May, 8, 2012
Time to wrap up our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. West Virginia will bring up the rear.

More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Wide receiver

The Big 12 has exactly zero returning 1,000-yard receivers in 2012, thanks to Texas A&M's SEC defection. All four 1,000 receivers from 2011 will be in the NFL (Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles, Kendall Wright) or the SEC (Ryan Swope).

West Virginia, though, returns two. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin will start the season as the Big 12's top two receivers, and there's a pretty good chance they'll end the season in the same place. Quarterback Geno Smith is arguably the Big 12's best, and the offense returns eight starters entering Year 2 of Dana Holgorsen's high-powered attack. That's a good sign for Bailey and Austin, a pair of dynamic playmakers. WVU's entire offense is based around getting them the ball, and as long as they stay healthy, both are more than capable of getting open.

Weakest position: Pass-rushers

West Virginia loved watching feel-good story Bruce Irvin hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft, but it also brings the focus on a stark realization for the Mountaineers: They need a lot of help with the pass-rush. Irvin is gone, but so is fellow defensive end Julian Miller and linebacker Najee Goode. Those were the team's three leading sackers, and leave behind 19 sacks in 2011 that the Mountaineers have to replace in 2012.

They'll do it in a new league with faster offenses and smarter, better quarterbacks. They'll also be breaking in a brand-new scheme. The 3-4 is a big departure from the 3-3-5 that much of the defensive recruits signed up to play when they came to West Virginia. That's an adjustment that won't be quick, but new coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson worked all spring on installing the system and making sure players can play fast with minimal thinking. Expect a few growing pains early. Everything looks better on defense when you have a disruptive pass-rush, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that element might not be there for WVU in the immediate future.