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College Football Countdown: No. 18 West Virginia

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 18: West Virginia


Coach: Dana Holgorsen (10-3, entering his second season)

2011 results: 10-3 (5-2 in Big East, tied for first in Big East)

West Virginia summary compiled by Iliana Limón Romero.

Look back: It was a dramatic year for West Virginia on and off the field. Dana Holgorsen moved from head-coach-in-waiting to the Mountaineers’ formal head coach when it came to light then-head West Virginia coach Bill Stewart was actively campaigning to force Holgorsen out of the program.

Holgorsen, who was the team’s offensive coordinator, continued to work on installing his high powered offensive attack. Quarterback Geno Smith proved capable of handling the transition, ranking No. 8 nationally in total offense with 334.77 yards per game. West Virginia ranked No. 15 in total offense (469.54 yards per game) and No. 6 in passing offense (346.85 yards per game).

West Virginia’s sole losses of the 2011 season were 47-21 at powerhouse LSU, 49-23 at Syracuse and 38-35 against Louisville. The Mountaineers tied for a share of the Big East title and earned an invitation to the Orange Bowl. Holgorsen’s team showed what it could do with more time to learn and execute a game plan, pummeling Clemson 70-33.

Off the field, the Mountaineers pounced on an opportunity to leave the Big East and join the Big 12 for the 2012 season. West Virginia filed a lawsuit to help its Big East contract and quickly leave the league. Holgorsen said during Big 12 media day he looked forward to moving on from the conference realignment drama and focusing solely on football.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 3/8

Defensive starters lost/returning: 5/6

Key losses: OL Don Barclay, DL Bruce Irvin, LB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy, S Eain Smith.

Top returnees: QB Geno Smith, WR Stedman Bailey, OL Joe Madsen, OL Jeff Braun, OL Josh Jenkins, DL Jorge Wright, LB Terence Garvin, DL Will Clarke, WR/PR Tavon Austin, DL Jewone Snow, S Darwin Cook, K Tyler Bitancurt.

Strengths: Smith shined in the Orange Bowl and returns to help lead the West Virginia offense into the Big 12. He will get a lot of help from a stout offensive line anchored by Joe Madsen,  Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins. While the West Virginia offense earns most of the attention, the defense was solid. The team ranked No. 33 nationally in total defense, giving up 348.23 yards per game.

Weaknesses: West Virginia is stepping into arguably a more competitive conference, with Oklahoma leading the pack. The Mountaineers’ offense may be able to make a smooth transition, but the team’s defense will be tested early and often.

Outlook: The Mountaineers have the talent to make a splash in the Big 12 and be one of the Top 25 teams in the country during the 2012 season.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Marshall

Sept. 15 James Madison (Landover, Md.)

Sept. 22 Maryland

Sept. 29 Baylor

Oct. 6 At Texas

Oct. 13 At Texas Tech

Oct. 20 Kansas State

Nov. 3 TCU

Nov. 10 At Oklahoma State

Nov. 17 Oklahoma

Nov. 23 At Iowa State

Dec. 1 Kansas

Rest of the countdown:
No. 19 Texas
No. 20 TCU
No. 21 Wisconsin
No. 22 Texas A&M
No. 23 Oklahoma State
No. 24 Washington
No. 25 Baylor
No. 26 Florida
No. 27 N.C. State
No. 28 Stanford
No. 29 Notre Dame
No. 30 Louisville 
No. 31 Missouri
No. 32 Iowa
No. 33 Cincinnati
No. 34 Utah
No. 35 Penn State
No. 36 Rutgers
No. 37 Boise State
No. 38 Mississippi State
No. 39 Georgia Tech
No. 40 SMU
No. 41 Wake Forest
No. 42 Houston
No. 43 Virginia 
No. 44 Northwestern
No. 45 Miami
No. 46 Southern Miss
No. 47 USF 
No. 48 North Carolina
No. 49 Illinois
No. 50 Tulsa
No. 51 California
No. 52 UCF
No. 53 Pittsburgh
No. 54 Arizona
No. 55 BYU 
No. 56 Ohio

No. 57 Temple

No. 58 Purdue

No. 59 Arkansas State

No. 60 Vanderbilt

No. 61 Connecticut

No. 62 Arizona State

No. 63 Wyoming

No. 64 Northern Illinois

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU

No. 76 San Jose State

No. 77 North Texas

No. 78 Iowa State

No. 79 Nevada

No. 80 Eastern Michigan

No. 81 Hawai’i

No. 82 East Carolina

No. 83 Texas Tech

No. 84 Washington State

No. 85 San Diego State

No. 86 Ball State

No. 87 Navy

No. 88 Tennessee

No. 89 Kent State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Bowling Green

No. 92 Syracuse

No. 93 Minnesota

No. 94 Boston College

No. 95 Kansas

No. 96 Oregon State

No. 97 Rice

No. 98 Ole Miss

No. 99 Colorado

No. 100 New Mexico State

No. 101 Duke

No. 102 Idaho

No. 103 Army

No. 104 Maryland

No. 105 Colorado State

No. 106 Miami (Ohio)

No. 107 UTEP

No. 108 Troy

No. 109 Fresno State

No. 110 Central Michigan

No. 111 Indiana

No. 112 Memphis

No. 113 Middle Tennessee

No. 114 UAB

No. 115 Buffalo

No. 116 Tulane

No. 117: FAU

No. 118: UNLV

No. 119: Akron

No. 120: New Mexico

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