Big 12: Travares Copeland

Weak and Strong: West Virginia

March, 14, 2013
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: West Virginia.

Strongest position: Safety

This will no doubt be a weird exercise, considering how West Virginia looked on the field last year. Thing is, nobody will personify turnover in the Big 12 more than WVU, whose strengths could be markedly different this fall than they were in 2012. As for the strongest position on the team, I say safety. You could make a case for the trio of Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie and Dreamius Smith at running back, but I'm going with the duo of Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph at safety as WVU's biggest strength right now. Joseph is probably the team's best overall player right now, and Cook is a playmaking senior who made 69 tackles, forced three fumbles, broke up four passes and intercepted a pass last season. Joseph, a true freshman, blew up as the defense's best player. He made 102 tackles, seven tackles for losses, broke up six passes and forced three fumbles for a defense that struggled. The defense should be at least a little better in Year 2 in the Big 12, and so will Joseph as a sophomore in the second year of a new defensive scheme.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

Like I said, this feels really weird. WVU's receiving duo of Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin a year ago might have been the best in the history of the Big 12, but just a few months later, the prospects at the position are grim. This might not be WVU's weakest position once the season begins (hello, cornerbacks), but right now, this unit has a ton to prove and almost no returning talent. J.D. Woods graduated and Travares Copeland transferred along with Ivan McCartney. The team's leading returning receiver is running back Andrew Buie, but the best at the position is sophomore Jordan Thompson, who turned heads last spring but made just 13 catches for 75 yards last season. Will new recruits like Kevin White and Shelton Gibson make an impact? I'm guessing yes, but for right now, this position leaves me wanting a whole lot more from WVU.

Big shoes to fill: West Virginia

February, 14, 2013
We'll kick off a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but we'll kick off at the bottom of the alphabet with West Virginia.

Big shoes to fill: WR Jordan Thompson

There will be a ton of talk this offseason about replacing Geno Smith, but great receivers can make even an average quarterback look a whole lot better. Replacing a player with Tavon Austin's kind of quickness is basically impossible, but the importance of doing so for the Mountaineers will be huge in 2013 with Ford Childress or Paul Millard stepping in for Smith. Thompson made a big impact in the spring but caught just 13 passes for 75 yards once the fall arrived. West Virginia's top three receivers (Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods, Austin) are all gone and two of its other top six transferred during the season (Travares Copeland, Ivan McCartney). So to put it simply, Thompson doesn't really have a choice. He's got to be great in 2013 for West Virginia's offense to keep rolling under Dana Holgorsen.

There will be room for freshmen and juco transfers like Shelton Gibson and Kevin White to make an impact, but the scary truth is a rising sophomore in his second season on campus is the best hope to fill the enormous void left behind from Austin and Bailey. Together they accounted for 224 receptions, 2,914 yards and 37 touchdowns.

No pressure.

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?

Mailbag: Award gripes, WVU offense

October, 26, 2012
Thanks for all the mail this week, everybody. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

On to your mail!

Evan in Atlanta writes: So Nick Florence, the guy leading the entire nation in total yards per game, gets no mention on your offensive player of the year list? What gives man I know you've been on the Florence band wagon since the spring.

David Ubben: I like Florence, but from the opening weeks of the season, I said he makes poor decisions and it would cost him. It has. He's productive, but how can you ignore the 10 interceptions? Only a handful of guys in college football have more and he's got three more than any player in the Big 12. He throws it a lot, but he's still one of four guys in the league with more than 200 attempts, but Seth Doege's seven picks are the only thing close to that. Landry Jones and Geno Smith only have half as many interceptions as Doege ... combined.

MKM in Addison, Texas, writes: Since you and Tubs both hail from Arkansas, how alluring is that job to a native Arkansawyer? Which Big 12 coach do you think would be most likely to jump at an SEC job? (Arkansas, Auburn or Tennessee)?

DU: Arkansawyer? That hurts my heart. Arkansan, sir. I'm from the northwest part of the state, though. Tuberville is from way down south. I don't think there's much draw. The only draw would be coming back to the SEC. Arkansas is a better job than Texas Tech, but it's not in a completely different stratosphere, and Tuberville's not trying to climb the coaching ladder. He's been around a whole lot of places for a long, long time. He's told me in the past he just wants a place he can just be happy. By all accounts, he's found that in Lubbock. I'm not going to say never, but I think he sticks around. He's recruited well and it looks like Texas Tech is finally turning the corner. He put in a lot of work these past two years, and considering where Arkansas is right now and stuck in a loaded division, he'd have to go right back to work trying to rebuild.

At this point in his life, I don't think he'd want to do that. Tenneesee would be more attractive, but again, I don't think he's trying to move up anywhere. He's been around in the SEC. I'll never say never on Tuberville leaving, but I'm betting he stays, even if any of those three schools are interested.

Art Briles and Gary Patterson are the other two names that come up for that, but Briles has already built a great program at Baylor and the program is paying it back by building a gorgeous new stadium. Briles is kind of married to that project. I don't see him leaving. Patterson, meanwhile, has made TCU a much, much, much better job than when he arrived. He worked for more than a decade before getting this program into the league it always wanted to be in, turning down a lot of jobs he probably could have had along the way. Why would he leave now? Makes no sense.

Calm Your Jets in Lincoln, Neb., writes: Do you really think that the cancelled KSU/Oregon series has any bearing on who should play in a NCG? Good ol Ivan Maisel seems to think KSU should be penalized since in his mind, KSU cancelled the series. But how could voters possibly knock off KSU because of institutional decisions on both sides? It is never one side or the others complete fault, and I for one would be happy if this talking point died and we focus on what the teams are currently doing. There is too much football left to put the bug in people's ear that the cancelled series should have anything to do with anything, and lets face it, there is a good chance one or BOTH of these teams could stumble. The BCS always has some funny way of working itself out by the end of it all.

DU: No, that seems a little ridiculous. I think Oregon's style points and recent history will help it if it comes down to the end of the season and everybody's undefeated, but if Notre Dame is undefeated, they'll probably get in over all of them.

It's a little shady, sure. And yes, this game would be happening if Kansas State wanted it to happen, even if it wouldn't be happening this year. But to penalize a team in the polls for that? Nothing short of shameful. If anybody does that, they deserve whatever blasting is coming their way. The players on the field had nothing to do with that, and they're the guys playing the games that show up on the schedule.

Chris in Maryland writes: "Your guess is as good as mine for why WVU's offense is struggling. Part of it is the inability to run the ball, but it's hard to not look past Geno Smith's inability to hit the deep ball the past two games."Come on, you're the journalist here! At least try to come up with some reasons. You know the league. Is it that the TTU and KSU defenses were just that much better, or is the team lacking depth and confidence?

DU: Hey, even WVU's coaches don't know what's going on. I talked to Shannon Dawson, the OC, after the Texas Tech game, and he said it comes down to three things. One, is effort. That's fixable. I didn't see a huge change from last week vs. K-State to the debacle at Texas Tech. Tavon Austin was playing, but everybody else looked average. Andrew Buie seemed unable to make guys miss.

The second thing coaches can change is personnel. WVU is missing Shawne Alston but moved some guys around on offense, throwing Travares Copeland out there to start. He didn't have much effect.

The third thing that can change is scheme. That's just not happening. That's not the problem. If anything, that's the biggest asset.

Bottom line: Geno Smith has not been sharp these past few weeks. Throws he usually makes have not been made. That's very clearly the problem. What's wrong with Geno? Only he knows, and only he can make it better. If that doesn't change, neither will WVU's newfound issues on offense.

Curtis in Iowa writes: Mr. Ubben, which ISU offense do you think will show up against Baylor Saturday night? The offense that put up 37 @ TCU or the one that put up 10 @ OK state.

DU: Well, Baylor's defense will help. The Bears are giving up 58.3 points (!!!) a game in conference play. Iowa State has struggled to find consistency at quarterback, and the simple throws aren't being made. The TCU game looks like a bit of an anomaly in hindsight, but I would expect the Cyclones to look a lot more like that against the Bears defense. I picked Baylor to win, but picked the Bears to do it while giving up 34 points in the process.