Since I run a college sports blog, obviously I have to do a Big East preview. The season starts at the end of August, so I'll run 2 of these a week until then. We are going to start this series with one of the favorites to win the whole damn thing, the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Coach: The WVU coach is the maligned Bill Stewart. He's only maligned by me and spiteful WVU fans, but hey, it's my blog I can say whatever I want. Stewart is 19-8 overall at WVU, and 10-4 in the Big East. He's 2-1 in bowl games. Stewart is in a make or break year in my eyes. WVU has finished second in his two years, but they have been the favorites seemingly forever. They are probably going to be picked second tomorrow when the coaches poll comes out. I think that WVU will disappoint, and that the heat will turn up on Stewart. He's not going anywhere after this season, but out of all the Big East coaches, I think he's on the thinnest of ice.
QB: The starter for the Mountaineers is going to be Geno Smith. Smith is a sophomore. The back up is Patrick White's brother Coley. Smith threw but 49 passes last year, completing 32, with 1 TD and 1 INT. Smith is highly regarded, but is a huge question mark for the Mountaineers. He's going to have a ton of pressure on his shoulders. One has to think that teams are going to load up on the run, so Smith is going to have to show something with his arm. Smith played a lot against Marshall as a freshman, going 15-21 147 1 TD. He also played in the Gator Bowl against FSU, going 8-15 92. The pressure is on this guy.
RB: The pressure on Smith will be relieved by these guys. The backs are highlighted by 7 year senior Noel Devine. Devine busted out for 1465 yards and 13 TDs on 6 yards a carry last season. Devine's yards per carry has gone down as his carries have increased. Devine had a mid season slump, with the rest of the offense, where he topped out at 4.3 yards a carry. WVU lost 2 of those 3 games. Devine exploded against Colorado with 22-220-TD, UConn 23-173-TD, Florida State 16-168-TD and Pitt 17-134-TD. The fullback Ryan Clarke had 60-250-8 TDs, and is great in short yardage. He put 60 yards on UC. The back up running backs are question marks. Shawne Alston was a big time recruit, but only got 6 carries last year. Daquan Hargrett is listed third on the chart I'm looking at. He's a freshman. I doubt he'll see a ton of carries. Flash forward to him putting 300 yards on UC.
WR: The Mountaineers return a couple of playmakers. Jock Sanders returns for his senior season. Sanders had 72 catches for 688 yards and 3 TDs. He may average under 10 yards a catch, but the figure has risen each of his 3 seasons. Sanders also runs the ball. He had 175 yards last year and scored a TD. He's scored 5 rushing TDs at WVU. Brad Starks figures to be the number 2 receiver in Morgantown. Starks is a junior, and hauled in 29-405-2 TDs. Those numbers were third best on the squad. The rest of the receivers are young and inexperienced. Ryan Nehlan, Stedman Bailey, Deon Long, Reggie Rembert and JD Woods have as many catches as me. Many are freshman. The only other guy with catches coming back is Tavon Austin, who had 15-151-1. There is buzz for Austin, who is seen as the replacement for Devine in some circles, so keep an eye on him in your Big East only college fantasy football leagues. I want to join one of those now. Someone start one.
TE: The Mountaineers return both tight ends, but neither will contribute much. Tyler Urban (10-177-1) and Will Johnson (6-78-1) are mostly used for blocking in the spread offense. A couple articles I've seen while googling WVU have hinted at the junior Urban getting more run, but I'm chalking that up to mumbo jumbo. Yeah I went to the mumbo jumbo card.
O-Line: The starting line should be a WVU strong suit. They return 4 starts, and the replacement is a senior. Don Barclay is highly touted at left tackle. The back ups are all young, 3 redshirt freshmen and 3 sophomores along with a junior who probably sucks because he's listed last. I'm expecting the line to kick ass run blocking. Pass blocking and depth seem like an issue.
D-Line: West Virginia plays the funky 3-3-5 if you recall. Leading the way on the front set is the nose tackle and stud Chris Neild. Julian Miller had 53 tackles and 9 sacks a year ago, and looks to have a better season. Duh, why would he look to have a worse season? What a dumb line. Miller is the only defense end for WVU. Scooter Berry has a ridiculous name, but was a stud 2 years ago before getting suspended and injured last season. If he bounces back, the front 3 is scary. They are backed up with experience, so the front 3 looks good.
LB: JT Thomas is one of the best linebackers in the Big East. He was 1st team last season with good reason. He put up 76 tackles, 7 for a loss, and 2 INTs. He's the engine of the defense. Pat Lazear and Anthony Leonard also return. Lezear led WVU in tackles last season. All three are seniors, with only Leonard being the first time starter. Najee Good has played in every game in his 2 seasons at WVU, but is the only real seasoned back up. It doesn't look like linebacker will be a problem.
DB: Neither will the secondary. There are two NFL talents and 1st team Big East selections. Brandon Hogan had 74 tackles and 11 break ups, and is the premier lock down corner in the Big East. I don't know if that's really true, but I said it and it sounded good. Hogan is joined by safety Robert Sands. Sands had 65 tackles, 5 INTs, 8 break ups and 3.5 tackles for loss. He is 6'5 and a monster. Keith Tandy is the corner across from Hogan. Tandy gets picked on, but as the season progressed, he got better. He had 3 picks and 61 tackles. Sydney Glover had 60 tackles, 7 for loss and 2 INTs. Terence Garvin is a sophomore and the new guy in the secondary. He figures to be picked on this season. The secondary was a little feast or famine. They had 17 INTs, but gave up 19 TD passes. In the last 5 games, they only gave up 4. 2 of them by Tony Pike in a happy note. The reserves I should have mentioned earlier, but they are a motley crew of young and old. Obviously they are going to struggle if Hogan or Sands gets hurt.
Special Teams: K Tyler Bitancourt was solid as a freshman. He hit 13-15, with a long of 45. His misses came from 30-39 and 40-49. But he was 6/7 and 5/6 from range, so that's not bad. He also nailed 41/42 PATs. Greg Pugnetti and Corey Smith are battling for the punting job. Greg is a senior and Corey a sophomore. Return wise, Jock Sanders, Tavon Austin, Brandon Hogan and maybe Devine will handle duties. WVU is a little sloppy on special teams I think, so it will be interesting to see if they can shape up.
Schedule: The jewel of the non conference schedule is a September 25 game at LSU. That one should be fun to watch. Maryland and UNLV take trips to Morgantown, while the Mountaineers go to wherever Marshall is and thunder the herd. Get it? BOOM. I consider your mind blown. The toughest stretch of the schedule seems to be @UConn, v. UC, @UofL, @Pitt. They play three of the top 4 predicted teams in a span of a month or so. The game at Louisville seems like a walkover, but it's a road game. West Virginia opens Big East play with their nemesis, South Florida in Morgantown.