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The West Virginia Mountaineers: Legitimate Big 12 Conference Title Contender

WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

  • West Virginia enters this season with one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation in Geno Smith, who threw for 4,385 yards with a 66% completion rate ( 31-7 ratio) last year.  Smith looked unstoppable in the Orange Bowl versus Clemson against whom he was 31-for-42 for 402 yards and six touchdowns.  Smith set school records for completions, pass attempts and yards passing in 2011, and he should be even more explosive this season now that he is comfortable with head coach Dana Holgoren’s offense.
  • The Mountaineers also boast one the best (if not the best) wide receiving units in college football.  Tavon Austin led the nation in all-purpose yards last season with 2,574 and finished second on the team with 1,186 receiving yards (11.7 yards per catch).  Stedman Bailey led the team with 1,279 receiving yards (17.8 yards per catch), while Ivan McCartney finished third with 585 receiving yards (11.9 yards per catch).  With all three returning in 2012, look for the Mountaineers to put up video game-like numbers in the passing department.
  • What makes West Virginia’s offense even more dangerous is the fact that the Mountaineers’ offensive line returns 105 career starts and has the potential of being one of the elite units in the country.  With Josh Jenkins returning from injury at left guard, I expect this offensive line to finish ranked in the Top 10 nationally, especially now that the players are familiar with coach Holgorsen’s offense and blocking schemes.
  • While West Virginia’s defense will be nowhere near as good as its offense, this side of the ball will be vastly improved under new defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.  The secondary returns six of its top eight players, while the defensive line is more experienced with two returning starters.  DeForest coached at Oklahoma State for the past decade and brings with him a vast amount of experience and results.
  • I also expect a significant improvement from West Virginia’s special teams now that DeForest, who is known as one of the best special team’s minds in football, will be overseeing this unit.  Kicker Tyler Bitancurt was 16-of-22 last year after being named 1st Team Big East as a freshman, while return specialist Tavon Austin averaged 14.1 yards per punt return and 26.1 yards per kick return.

Dana Holgorsen is one of my favorite head coaches in college football as he possesses a brilliant offensive mind that fits perfectly with the Mountaineers’ existing personnel.  The fact that West Virginia played in the Orange Bowl last year is significant in that it gave Holgorsen the opportunity to implement his entire offense during the extra practices (70-33 blowout win over Clemson).  Now that Holgorsen has had the entire off-season and spring practice to work on his offense, look for the Mountaineers to be one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

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