The offense scores—lots—but can the new 3--4 defense slow down Big 12 foes?

Key Recruit

KARL JOSEPH The 5'11", 190-pound Joseph showed up in Morgantown from Orlando's Edgewater High in the spring and quickly displayed an athleticism and versatility that WVU has lacked and which will allow him to slide nicely into the team's new 3--4.

Breakout Player

SHAWNE ALSTON A car accident and subsequent neck injury kept the 5'11", 235-pound tailback out of the first two games last year. But the hard-running senior is now healthy, so he should continue to get short-yardage chances (12 TDs) and a real opportunity to prove himself as an every down back.

The Skinny

THREE YEARS AGO, when he was advised by West Virginia's coaches to switch to wideout, Tavon Austin almost transferred instead. But the former running back at Baltimore's Dunbar High relented, and now the 5'9", 174-pound Austin—since remade as a slot receiver—has a claim to the title of Most Exciting Player in College Football. Last season, in new coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid offense, Austin did some of everything, notably picking up 280 all-purpose yards (117 receiving, 46 rushing and 117 returning) in the Mountaineers' 70--33 blowout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. This fall Austin's rapport with quarterback Geno Smith sets both of them up to be Heisman contenders, and elevate WVU's offense to the best in the nation.

Final Analysis

PITY THE secondaries tasked with slowing the Mountaineers. Smith doesn't have only Austin, he also has wideout Stedman Bailey, whose receiving numbers were even better than Austin's last year. But maybe the most terrifying individual to account for is the man on the WVU sideline, Holgorsen, a smart Mike Leach disciple who knows exactly how to leverage the abundance of firepower at his disposal. If the defense takes to the newly installed 3--4 scheme—and can thus keep Smith out of a shootout—WVU's first season in the Big 12 will rocket out of the gate and keep on going.

THE VITALS

Coach Dana Holgorsen (2nd year)

10--3 (5--2 Big East)

2011 Record 10--3 (5--2, T-1 in Big East)

Final AP Rank 17

Returning Starters Offense 8, Defense 7

2011 STATS

Total Offense (FBS Rank) 469.5 YPG (15)

Rushing Offense 122.7 YPG (92)

Passing Offense 346.8 YPG (6)

Total Defense 348.2 YPG (33)

Rushing Defense 144.8 YPG (55)

Passing Defense 203.5 YPG (35)

TELLING NUMBER 198

All-purpose yards per game last year by Austin, who became the first Mountaineer to lead the country in any category since Ricky Sherrod in 2001.

TOP PLAYERS

Offense

QB Geno Smith

Sr. 6'3", 214 pounds

4,385 YDs, 31 TDs

WR Tavon Austin

Sr. 5'9", 174 pounds

101 RECs, 1,186 YDs

WR Stedman Bailey

Jr. 5'10", 188 pounds

72 RECs, 1,279 YDs

Defense

SS Darwin Cook

Jr. 5'11", 204 pounds

85 tackles, 2 INTs

DE Will Clarke

Jr. 6'6", 269 pounds

35 tackles, 2 sacks

NT Jorge Wright

Sr. 6'2", 289 pounds

38 tackles, 1½ sacks

Special Teams

K Tyler Bitancurt

Sr. 6'1", 203 pounds

16/22 FGs, 61/63 PATs

PHOTOANDREW WEBER/US PRESSWIRE (BAILEY)The reliable Bailey went for more than 1,000 yards last year and will keep defenses from focusing on Austin. PHOTOJOEL AUERBACH/GETTY IMAGES (ALSTON)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)