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         ***** NCAA Football Preview - West Virginia Mountaineers *****
 
 By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The West Virginia Mountaineers set out for their first
 foray in the Big 12 with heightened expectations, and they certainly didn't
 disappoint through the initial six weeks, scoring an average of 52.2 ppg in
 staking claim to a perfect 5-0 record.
 
 From there however, the wheels came off as coach Dana Holgorsen's squad lost
 five in a row, some in blowout fashion, with the defense being the primary
 culprit for WVU's unraveling.
 
 Wins over Iowa State (31-24) and Kansas (59-10) helped regain some lost
 confidence, and a winning regular-season (7-5) earned the Mountaineers a
 Pinstripe Bowl bid against the Syracuse Orange, which turned out to be another
 disappointment as they fell in a 38-14 final.
 
 2013 ANALYSIS:
 
 OFFENSE: Geno Smith was the Heisman front-runner early on in the 2012
 campaign, but while the talented quarterback put up impressive numbers (4,205
 yards, 42 TDs, six interceptions) his team's troubles later on derailed his
 chances of taking home college football's top individual honor. Smith had the
 exceptionally good fortune of having two standout receivers at his disposal,
 as Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin combined for more than 2,900 yards and 37
 TDs, the former finding the end zone 25 times himself.
 
 All three record-setting players are gone, leaving more questions than answers
 as Holgorsen seeks suitable replacements. Inexperienced players abound on
 offense, and the quarterback job will likely go to junior Paul Millard,
 although competition will come from freshman Ford Childress and Florida State
 transfer Clint Trickett. The receiving corps is largely unproven, although
 junior college transfer Kevin White has demonstrated the skills needed to be a
 successful wideout in WVU's high-octane offensive attack.
 
 While pleased with their progress to this point, Holgorsen is non-committal
 when talking about his starting quarterback.
 
 "I like where we're at with it and look forward to being able to coach them.
 I'm not going to put a timetable on it. When one of those guys steps up, we're
 going to name the starter and move forward with reps."
 
 Returning rushing leader Andrew Buie gained 851 yards and scored seven
 touchdowns last season, and he will likely share time in the backfield with
 juco transfer Dreamius Smith.
 
 The offensive line will be a work in progress, at least at the start of the
 season, as only massive tackle Quinton Spain has garnered any buzz for his
 previous accomplishments.
 
 DEFENSE: How bad was the WVU defense last season? Well, the unit gave up 38.1
 points and 473.6 total yards per game, and its yield of 9.3 yards per pass
 attempt ranked dead last in the nation.
 
 There are seven guys back with starting experience, although most would argue
 that's not necessarily a good thing considering the Mountaineers' struggles of
 a year ago. Still, guys like safety Karl Joseph (104 stops, two interceptions)
 and linebacker Isaiah Bruce (94 stops, two interceptions, two fumble
 recoveries), the team's top two tacklers as freshmen last season, have the
 ability to be standout performers.
 
 Senior defensive end Will Clarke (6.5 TFL, four QB hurries) flashed signs of
 brilliance last year, but the line will need to play better across the board.
 The same goes for the secondary, which gave up one big play after another in
 2012. Holgorsen hopes seniors Brodrick Jenkins and Darwin Cook, along with
 Joseph, will provide a unified front against opposing passing attacks.
 
 Keith Patterson was recently promoted to full-time defensive coordinator and
 Holgorsen has been pleased with the changes that have been implemented.
 
 "I really like our defensive staff right now. The communication has been the
 biggest probably improvement," He continued, "Keith's done that before. He's
 been a DC before. He's got a bunch of experience calling plays in this
 specific defense we want to run, and I think the results will show."
 
 SPECIAL TEAMS: West Virginia needs to fill nearly every position on its
 special teams, and expected to assume starting roles are freshman kicker Josh
 Lambert and sophomore punter Nick O'Toole. As for the return game, replacing
 the explosive Austin (scores on both a kick and punt return last season) will
 be impossible, but someone like Jenkins could excel if the rest of the unit
 performs well.
 
 OUTLOOK: Non-league bouts against FCS foe William & Mary, FBS newcomer Georgia
 State, and regional rival Maryland are all winnable for WVU, but the Big 12
 slate offers more than a few potential pitfalls. The Mountaineers will
 actually know early on just how good they are, as they will play their
 conference opener at Oklahoma in week two.
 
 Like last season, the middle of the schedule is where the team will likely
 experience some turbulent times as it will tangle with Oklahoma State, Baylor,
 Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU and Texas from Sept. 28 to Nov. 9.
 
 Closing against Kansas and Iowa State, like they did last season as well,
 could give the Mountaineers a boost, but improving upon last year's win total
 will be difficult.
 
 
 
 08/20 10:47:59 ET