2011 College Football Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers
2010 Record: (9-4, 5-2 in Big East)
Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen (1st yr Head Coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Champs Sports Bowl (lost to NC State 23-7)
9/4: Marshall (2010 result: won 24-21 OT)
9/10: Norfolk State
9/17: at Maryland (2010 result: won 31-17)
9/24: LSU (2010 result: lost 20-14)
10/1: Bowling Green
10/8: UConn (2010 result: lost 16-13 OT)
10/21: at Syracuse (2010 result: lost 19-14)
10/29: at Rutgers (2010 result: won 35-14)
11/5: Louisville (2010 result: won 17-10)
11/12: at Cincinnati (2010 result: won 37-10)
11/25: Pittsburgh (2010 result: won 35-10)
12/1: at USF (2010 result: won 20-6)
2010 Offensive Statistics:
Scoring: 25.2 ppg (5th in Big East, 78th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 159.69 yds/game (4th in Big East, 50th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 213.0 yds/game (2nd in Big East, 67th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 365.8 yds/game (4th in Big East, 67th in Nation)
2010 Defensive Statistics:
Scoring: 13.5 ppg (1st in Big East, 3rd in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 86.46 yds/game (1st in Big East, 2nd in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 174.6 yds/game (3rd in Big East, 11th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 261.1 yds/game (1st in Big East, 3rd in Nation)
2010 Misc Stats:
Turnover Margin: -0.38 per game (7th in Big East, 80th in Nation)
Penalties: 40.6 yds/game (2nd in Big East, 12th in Nation)
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Passing: QB Geno Smith, Jr (241 of 372 for 2763 yds, 24 TD, 7 INT)
Rushing: RB Ryan Clarke, Jr (80 for 291 yds, 3.6 ypc, 8 TD)
Receiving: WR Tavon Austin, Jr (58 rec for 787 yds, 8 TD)
Tackles: S Terence Garvin, Jr (76)
Sacks: DE Bruce Irvin, Sr (14)
Interceptions: CB Keith Tandy, Sr (6)
Athlon Sports: Orange (vs FSU)
When Dana Holgorsen was announced as the new Offensive Coordinator at West Virginia this off-season a couple of the Zealots (myself included) were quite excited. Just look at what he did at Oklahoma State last year in only one year on the job. OSU improved from 28.4 points per game to 44.2 and they improved their total offense from 367 yards to 502 yards. When he first arrived at Houston he increased their scoring by 6 points per game the first year on the job and then by another two the next year. Holgorsen knows offense and he knows how to get the most out of his players. The biggest question-mark we had was how he would work with Bill Stewart. It was a messy summer at West Virginia but when they cloud cleared it was Holgersen that was the Head Coach and Bill Stewart was moved out.
It's a shame that Noel Devine and Jock Sanders won't be around to be a part of Holgersen's offense but the Mountaineers appear stocked and loaded on offense. Geno Smith returns at QB and looks poised for a career year. The other major star on offense that returns is Tavon Austin. Did I mention that West Virginia returns the most OL starts in the Big East as they lost just one starter off the OL. Look for an offense that will much more resemble the days of RichRod in WVU than Bill Stewart.
On defense the Mountaineers lose a bunch of starters off of a team that was among the Nation's best in many statistical categories. That being said the cupboard is far from bare and Jeff Casteel (who has been at WVU since 2001) also returns as DC. West Virginia returns a DE combo in Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller that combined for 23 sacks last year. They also return a couple of good DBs in Keith Tandy and Terence Garvin. It appears that the major question is how good can the LB corps be after losing two of it's leaders this year. The good news for WVU is that the defense doesn't have to be as good as it was last year with the improvement that the offense will see.
In a Big East where there aren't a lot of stand-outs and there hasn't been a lot of recent success, West Virginia stands up as the most likely to succeed in this class. We caught up with Tom Perry from the Eye and Eer Blog and the up-start Bloguin blog Crystal Ball Run to get an inside take on the 2011 West Virginia Mountaineers.
It's been a wild off-season in Morgantown but the dust has settled and Dana Holgersen is the main man. What do you expect from him in his first season?
Anything less than 10 wins and a Big East championship will feel like a major letdown, but that may be unrealistic for a first-year coach. The talent is there, especially on offense, so everyone is expecting WVU to score 35-45 points a game. However, the defense lost a lot of talent from last year's unit that was the best in the Big East. Since the Big East is still lacking a dominant program, the Mountaineers are in a perfect spot to win the conference. When AD Oliver Luck hired Holgorsen, he made it clear he was bringing in a coach who he feels can win it all. So fans have that expectation as well...no matter how illogical it may be.
Which players do you think will benefit most from Holgersen's offense?
It starts with quarterback Geno Smith, who excelled last year in spite of former offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. Under Holgorsen's tutelage, Smith could easily have a similar season to that of Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden last year. Smith is athletic and accurate, and now with a quality game plan he is likely to become more of a household name this season. It doesn't stop with Smith, though. Wide receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Bradley Starks, Ivan McCartney and J.D. Woods. But the one receiver who may benefit the most is Tyler Urban, who is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound, former tight end. Holgorsen likes Urban's speed for a big receiver and he is going to use him in the slot to create match up problems for the defense.
West Virginia has some really good returning players on defense but also lost a bunch of starters. Who are some first time starters on defense that you expect will have an immediate impact?
While DE Bruce Irvin led the team and Big East with 14 sacks last year, he was mainly used as a third-down specialist. So he was allowed to pin back his ears and go after the quarterback. This year Irvin is going to be playing every down, so he must become a better all-around defender. Another player generating some excitement during the offseason has been junior college All-American Josh Francis, who could see plenty of time at linebacker. He could even earn a starting spot.
How big is the LSU game for West Virginia?
West Virginia's goal is to win the Big East and see where it lands in the BCS landscape. So from that perspective the game with LSU will have no impact on the program's biggest goal. However, WVU is a program with an identity crisis. The Mountaineers (especially the fans) believe West Virginia should be considered a Top 10 program annually. To earn that respect then Holgorsen's team must win a game like this one. WVU fans remember all to well when the Mountaineers beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in 2006, and they want that type of win again. LSU is fast and athletic, but the Mountaineers are as well. The only difference is LSU will have more depth. WVU came so close at LSU last year that everyone wants a little revenge. Mountaineer Field will be electric that game and this LSU team will be the most talented team to play in Morgantown since Miami was in the Big East.
Looking at the schedule, other than LSU, what are the most important games this year?
Outside of the conference, WVU has a key road game against Maryland. West Virginia and the Terps aren't technically rivals, but there's some bad blood between the teams. It's also a big game because it will be the Mountaineers first real test of the season. If Holgorsen leads WVU to a win here then it won't be so unrealistic to think the Mountaineers can knock off LSU a week later.
What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
If everything comes together quickly for Holgorsen, WVU could be a huge surprise and actually be 12-0. But the Mountaineers will likely be 10-2 and win the Big East. Anything less than a conference championship will mean it wasn't a successful season.
CFBZ Top 25
#11 West Virginia Mountaineers
2011 Team Previews