SCOUTING REPORT The beginning of the football season can't come fast enough for West Virginia fans, who suffered through a bizarre offseason. It'll be a tougher adjustment for the team forced to adapt to a new head coach, offensive scheme and depleted defensive lineup.Luckily for West Virginia, its Big East rivals have problems of their own. The Mountaineers are favored to win the conference, receiving 21 of 24 first-place votes in a recent media poll.That's partially due to the arrival of Dana Holgorsen, who assumed the head coach's role after the school eventually bough out lame duck head man Bill Stewart. Holgorsen, who will also be calling the plays, arrives amid much fanfare after helping Oklahoma State to a 10-2 record and the nation's No. 2 passing offense and No. 3 scoring offense last season.Holgorsen's "Air Raid Offense" should do wonders for quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 2,763 yards, 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in his first year as a starter. Smith has a strong corps of returning receivers -- four of the six players with 200 or more receiving yards return -- including budding star Tavon Austin. The loss of star running back Noel Devine will be tempered by Holgorsen's focus on the passing game, although the Mountaineers are looking to establish a running threat with true freshman Vernard Roberts, who has thus far impressed the coaching staff.The true worries are on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, the West Virginia defense was as stingy as they come, only twice allowing its opponent to score more than 20 points. The loss of seven starters has left a lot of holes to fill, especially among the linebackers, where three of the four starters are now gone.West Virginia will certainly feature prominently in the Big East title race, and as long as the defense can maintain some of last year's dominance, Smith's strong arm and Holgorsen's system should make BCS dreams an attainable reality.
THE BIG IF Can the Mountaineers plug holes on defense, where they must replace seven starters from a stingy 2010 unit? TELLING NUMBER .250 -- The winning percentage of last year's team in games that were decided by six points or fewer. WVU went 1-3 in those games. KEY RETURNEES Geno Smith, QB, Jr. -- The Mountaineers may end up living and dying with Smith's arm. After throwing for 2,763 yards in his first year as starter, the sky is the limit for the junior, who should thrive in Holgorsen's pass-heavy offense.
Tavon Austin, WR, Jr. -- The receiver led the team with nine touchdowns last season, including a 71-yard bomb during last season's 35-10 win over rival Pitt.
Najee Goode, LB, Sr. -- The senior middle linebacker was third on the teams with 8.5 tackles for loss last year and will be the leader among an inexperienced linebacking corps.
Keith Tandy, CB, Sr. -- The All-Big East cornerback was fifth on the team in tackles and first on the team with six interceptions last season. He is the only DB in the Big East to be on the recently announced Jim Thorpe Award watch list. BREAKOUT PLAYER Quinton Spain, RT, Fr. -- Spain was a 2010 recruit, but red-shirted to work on his agility. Now in much better shape, the 6-5, 338-pounder will be a force to reckon with. TOP RECRUIT Vernard Roberts, RB, Fr. -- The true freshman arrived early in the spring and could be a surprise running threat for opponents struggling to cope with WVU?s passing game.
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