West Virginia running back Andrew Buie returns to anchor the Mountaineers' offense. ( Ronald Martinez, Getty Images.)
Today at No. 50: West Virginia
Coach: Dana Holgorsen (17-9, third season; 17-9 overall)
2012 record: 7-6 (4-5 in Big 12 Conference, tied for fifth in Big 12)
Look back: Expectations were high for the West Virginia program heading into 2012, especially after an impressive 70-33 victory in the Orange Bowl the previous season. Things looked good at the start with the team winning its first five games, but the Mountaineers then lost five straight — including double-digit losses to Texas Tech, Kansas State and Oklahoma State while also suffering one-point losses to TCU and Oklahoma. Another double-digit loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl was the fitting end to a disappointing first season in the Big 12.
Offensive starters returning: 4
Offensive starters lost: 7
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, WR J.D. Woods, LB Josh Francis, LB Terence Garvin, CB Pat Miller, K Tyler Bitancurt
Top returnees: RB Andrew Buie, WR Connor Arlia, S Karl Joseph, LB Isaiah Bruce, S Darwin Cook, LB Doug Rigg, DL Will Clarke
Strengths: Andrew Buie's strong performance at running back last season was lost amid the hype surrounding West Virginia QB Geno Smith's offensive fireworks. Buie led the team in rushing (851 yards/7 TDs) and will most likely will carry some of the burden of the offense, at least early on in the season. The defense was this team's Achilles' heel last season allowing, a little more than 38 points per game. That unit will return seven starters from last season including two main pieces on the front line in Will Clarke (26 tackles/1.5 sacks) and Shaq Rowell (42 tackles). The secondary, which was this group's strength, returns key components Orlando Edgewater High's Karl Joseph (104 tackles/2 INTs) and Darwin Cook (75 tackles).
Weaknesses: West Virginia had one of the most explosive offenses in the country last season with the Mountaineers, averaging close to 40 points per game. The Mountaineers relied on Smith and the prolific passing attack. With Smith's departure to the NFL, coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson must find someone to fill Smith's shoes. Junior Paul Millard, Ford Childress and former FSU transfer Clint Trickett as the most likely candidates for the starting job. Several other major pieces from last year's offense are missing as well, including receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Austin was the team's all-around playmaker, earning 1,289 yards receiving and 643 yards rushing. Bailey led the team in receiving with 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns. Heading into 2013, the Mountaineers must rely on virtually unproven talent at the slot and wideout positions.
Outlook: After a disappointing season when just about everything went wrong, the offseason wasn't much better as talented quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital left for Texas A&M. Several other assistants departed as well, forcing Holgorsen to make major changes to his staff. This could be a crucial season for Holgorsen. Another dismal campaign could turn up the heat in Morgantown.
Aug. 31 William & Mary
Sept. 7at Oklahoma
Sept. 14 Georgia State
Sept. 21 vs. Maryland
Sept. 28 Oklahoma State
Oct. 5 at Baylor
Oct. 19 Texas Tech
Oct. 26 at Kansas State
Nov. 2 at TCU
Nov. 9 Texas
Nov. 16 at Kansas
Nov. 29 Iowa State