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.
Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Landover, Md.)