WVU Football: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2012

Tom PerryCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2012

WVU Football: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2012

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    West Virginia will face a number of "what ifs" between now and the start of 2012.

    The biggest at this point is what conference will the Mountaineers be playing in when the season kicks off in September.

    For now, let's assume WVU will be in the Big 12.

    So Dana Holgorsen and his score-happy offense should fit right in with teams like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas and so on.

    But if the Mountaineers are going to make an immediate impact in their new conference, some new faces must make a major impact.

    Expectations are already high for players like quarterback Geno Smith, receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and defensive back Terence Garvin.

    Now, some of these players have already hit the field and had moments of success for WVU, but they were not in the spotlight in 2011.

    So maybe these five guys will become key components to West Virginia's first season in the Big 12.

Josh Jenkins, OL

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    Josh Jenkins was one of WVU's most-heralded recruits out of Parkersburg (W.Va.) High School in 2008.

    He became a All-Big East performer as an offensive guard but missed 2011 because of a knee injury suffered in the spring game.

    He's worked hard in rehab, and a thin offensive line will welcome him back.

    The 6'3", 305-pounder can be a dominant force on the line.

Ivan McCartney, WR

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    Ivan McCartney is just another of the Miramar (Fla.) High School standouts at WVU.

    However, McCartney has not quite lived up to the hype.

    He was considered one of the best receivers coming out of high school and chose West Virginia over Miami.

    McCartney played better in 2011 and was WVU's No. 3 receiver with 49 catches for 585 yards and three touchdowns.

    He still drops too many passes and needs to run better routes.

    He has the physical skills to be a top receiver, and in Dana Holgorsen's system, he can have a huge impact...even with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

Will Clarke, DE

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    Will Clarke becomes WVU's best chance to be the next Bruce Irvin.

    OK, no one is really Irvin, but Clarke showed some skills in 2011, and he could be a force rushing off the edge.

    Clark had 2.5 sacks to go with 35 tackles.

    At 6'6", 265 pounds, Clarke has the physical skills to be something special.

Quinton Spain, OL

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    Quinton Spain is physically imposing at 6'5", 338 pounds.

    He played in the U.S. Army All-American game coming out of Petersburg (Va.) High School.

    He saw a great deal of action in 2011, but he should develop into a potential all-conference player.

    If WVU can shore up its offensive line in 2012, the running game could become a bigger factor in the Mountaineers' play-calling.

Shawne Alston, RB

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    Junior Shawne Alston rushed for 416 yards but became WVU's top choice near the goal line, and he accumulated 12 touchdowns.

    Alston is a big back who has good speed. Dustin Garrison will likely remain the No. 1 running back once he recovers from a knee injury.

    Still, Alston will have to help WVU keep drives going by converting short first downs and providing protection for Geno Smith.