2011 West Virginia Preview
West Virginia DE Julian Miller
West Virginia DE Julian Miller
Posted May 28, 2011

It's an interesting situation as West Virginia has a team good enough to win the Big East title, and has an outside chance of putting together a truly special season. Check out the CFN 2011 West Virginia Preview.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Bill Stewart
4th year: 28-12
Returning Lettermen
Off. 19, Def. 18, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best West Virginia Players
1. DE Bruce Irvin, Sr.
2. QB Geno Smith, Jr.
3. CB Keith Tandy, Sr.
4. DT Julian Miller, Sr.
5. LT Don Barclay, Sr.
6. WR Tavon Austin, Jr.
7. LG Josh Jenkins, Sr.
8. SS Terence Garvin, Jr.
9. LB Najee Goode, Sr.
10. WR Stedman Bailey, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 4 Marshall
Sep. 10 Norfolk State
Sep. 17 at Maryland
Sep. 24 LSU
Oct. 1 Bowling Green
Oct. 8 Connecticut
Oct. 22 at Syracuse
Oct. 29 at Rutgers
Nov. 5 Louisville
Nov. 12 at Cincinnati
Nov. 25 Pitt
Dec. 1 at USF

Coach-in-waiting no longer.

When it was announced last December that Bill Stewart would lead West Virginia for one more season before giving way to Dana Holgorsen, it wasn't exactly a stunner. Even after going 28-12 and being on the sidelines for four bowl games, there was a gnawing feeling that the program had lost its way under Stewart.

After peaking in his debut, the 2008 Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma, his teams have been ordinary, failing to win the Big East or capture the attention of the nation. Unlike when Rich Rodriguez was stringing together 11-win seasons in Morgantown, the Mountaineers had slipped from their perch, so a change was made.

The real shocker, however, came in June, when Stewart was forced to resign unexpectedly amid allegations he'd been encouraging the local media to dig up dirt on Holgorsen. What a mess. The presumed team player was employing a form of sabotage, creating an embarrassing situation for the University and AD Oliver Luck.

During the transition period, Holgorsen was going to serve as the offensive coordinator, installing his version of the spread offense that was so successful in Stillwater and Houston, and preparing to be the boss in 2012. Well, 2012 is now. While not quite a culture shock, the Mountaineers will be digesting a very different system that throws more than the school is accustomed and is in perpetual motion.

The biggest beneficiaries will be junior QB Geno Smith, a budding star at the position, and a collection of athletic playmakers, like WR Tavon Austin and rookie RB Vernard Roberts. With Holgorsen, it's just a matter of when, not if, his offense will be potent, balanced, and difficult to slow down.

From an administrative standpoint, the defense will be far more stable. Jeff Casteel has been the coordinator for almost a decade, perennially frustrating opposing offenses with his unique 3-3-5 stack alignment. The personnel, however, is in a state of flux, losing seven talented starters, most of whom finished their Mountaineer careers as all-stars. The D will still be ornery and quick to the ball, led by DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, and CB Keith Tandy, but matching last year's pristine results is improbable.

West Virginia is getting rather impatient as it searches for the championships that eluded it during the Stewart era. It's had too much mediocrity and not enough red-letter victories. A delicate year-long passing of the baton is already over, as the Mountaineers take their first steps toward trying to recapture the prosperity of the previous decade.

What to watch for on offense: Geno goes back to school. Even after delivering a terrific debut as the starting quarterback, in a sense it'll be back to the drawing board for Geno Smith. More than anyone, he has to fully digest and understand Dana Holgorsen's new system before Marshall visits on Sept. 3. That means understanding the playbook, knowing his reads, and adjusting to different timing. It'll a tall order, but the junior is more than just a good athlete; he also has it under the helmet, which will be especially beneficial this offseason.

What to watch for on defense: Nose job. One of the many concerns on defense is at nose tackle, where someone needs to replace all-star Chris Neild. As if the situation wasn't pressing enough already, projected starter Jorge Wright was suspended indefinitely in early May after being charged with marijuana possession and carrying an unlicensed gun. Now, the Mountaineers are fortunate to have veteran Josh Taylor in the on-deck circle, but if Wright's suspension isn't lifted before September, West Virginia will have a bona fide crisis in the middle of the line.

The team will be far better if… it gets a better handle on the ball. For the second straight year, West Virginia was careless on offense, putting the ball on the ground at an alarming rate and stalling far too many promising drives. In fact, no team in America coughed it up more than the Mountaineers, which lost an unthinkable 20 fumbles. No matter how good Dana Holgorsen or the athletes he inherited are this season, it won't matter unless the team can dramatically cut down on its number of turnovers.

The Schedule: It's all about the September 24th home date with LSU. The Mountaineers are experienced enough and good enough to get by a road trip at Maryland, and the rest of the non-conference slate - Marshall, Norfolk State, Bowling Green - is a breeze, but a win over the Tigers would launch the national title talk. Back-to-back road trips to Syracuse and Rutgers will be tough, and going to CIncinnati makes it three road games in four weeks, but there's a week off before getting Pitt at home.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Geno Smith. Smith had about as good a debut as a young passer could have, finishing 241-of-372 for 2,763 yards, 24 touchdowns, and seven picks to land on the All-Big East second team. For good measure, he also flashed nice mobility, rushing for another 217 yards. He has all of the tools that coaches look for in a quarterback, including an accurate arm and poise in the pocket. And best of all, he's only going to get better in a system designed to accentuate his myriad skills.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Bruce Irvin. At this time last season, Irvin was a complete unknown, even on the West Virginia campus. Today, he's an All-American candidate, with a future in the NFL. Even as a situational pass rusher, his talent broke through in his first season removed from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Community College. Instant electricity off the snap, he harassed opposing quarterbacks from start to finish, collecting 14 sacks and nearly leading the entire country.

Key players to a successful season: The running backs. No, they won't be as pronounced as they were when Noel Devine and Steve Slaton were in Morgantown, but they'll still play a vital role. The new offense seeks balance, giving the backs great looks when the defense is sitting back on its heels. To really make this offense hum, West Virginia needs one of its many competing A-backs to emerge into a multi-dimensional playmaker. True freshman Vernard Roberts had a slight edge coming out of spring, but Marquand Hargrett, Trey Johnson, Shawne Alston, and Ryan Clarke will all be in the hunt in August.

The season will be a success if ... West Virginia wins nine games and makes a smooth transition to Dana Holgorsen and his offensive system. The Mountaineers want to regain their spot atop the Big East, naturally, but would be happy if they can extend the nine-year postseason streak and begin turning the page on the sidelines. While the conference is absolutely up for grabs, West Virginia is facing a few tall hurdles, like the overall change in philosophy and all of the key losses on defense.

Key game: Sept. 24 vs. LSU. Yeah, it'll have no bearing on the Big East race and isn't the Backyard Brawl, but a visit from an SEC power will be a must-see event at Milan Puskar Stadium. More important, it'll be a perfect measuring stick for a program that'll want to know how well the changing of the guard is going after the first month. A nationally-televised upset of a Tiger team that could be in the top 10 at the time would be like a rocket booster for the Mountaineers.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Total touchdowns: West Virginia 42 – Opponents 17
- Third down conversions: West Virginia 45% – Opponents 26%
- Fumbles lost: West Virginia 20 - Opponents 11

- 2011 West Virginia Preview | 2011 West Virginia Offense
- 2011 West Virginia Defense | 2011 West Virginia Depth Chart
- West Virginia Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006