West Virginia 2011 team preview

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West Virginia Mountaineers
By R.J. Rico
Quarterback Geno Smith :: Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI
Team Vitals
Head CoachDana Holgorsen
Holgorsen at WVU0-0
Wins In Last 5 Seasons11, 11, 9, 9, 9
Offensive CoordinatorDana Holgorsen
Defensive CoordinatorJeff Casteel
Returning StartersOffense 8, Defense 4
2010 Season9-4 (5-2 Big East)
2010 Final AP RankNot ranked
2010 Rushing Offense50 (4)
2010 Passing Offense67 (2)
2010 Total Offense67 (2)
2010 Rushing Defense2 (1)
2010 Passing Defense11 (3)
2010 Total Defense3 (1)
2011 Schedule
Sept. 4Marshall
Sept. 10Norfolk State
Sept. 17at Maryland
Sept. 24LSU
Oct. 1Bowling Green
Oct. 8Connecticut
Oct. 21at Syracuse
Oct. 29at Rutgers
Nov. 5Louisville
Nov. 12at Cincinnati
Nov. 25Pittsburgh
Dec. 1at South FLorida
ANALYSIS: LSU's visit highlights the nonconference slate, while a travel-heavy second half culminates in a game at South Florida that could decide the Big East title.
Depth Chart
QBGeno SmithPaul Millard
RBVernard RobertsTrey Johnson
FBMatt Lindamood Ricky Kovatch
WRStedman BaileyJ.D. Woods
WRTavon AustinWillie Milhouse
WRTyler UrbanDaven Brown
WRRyan NehlenBrad Starks
LTDon BarclayNick Kindler
LGJef BraunChad Snodgrass
CJoe MadsenJohn Bassler
RGTyler RaderCole Bowers
RTQuinton SpainPat Eger
DTJulian Miller J.B. Lageman
NTJosh Taylor Trevor Demko
DEBruce Irvin Will Clarke
LBDoug RiggTyler Anderson
LBNajee GoodeBranko Busick
LBJosh FrancisCasey Vance
CBKeith TandyBrantwon Bowser
CBPat MillerBrodrick Jenkins
SSTerence GarvinMike Dorsey
FSEain SmithTravis Bell
SDarwin CookWes Tonkery
KTyler Bitancurt Corey Smith
PCorey Smith Michael Molinari
KR Tavon AustinBrad Starks
PRBrodrick JenkinsTavon Austin
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.

Can the Mountaineers plug holes on defense, where they must replace seven starters from a stingy 2010 unit?

.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.

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.

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.

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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