West Virginia Football: 5 Storylines Heading into Spring Ball
West Virginia had a very successful season last year, as they finished the season 10-3 and had a huge Orange Bowl victory over the Clemson Tigers. This year, they return a total of 15 starters and are looking to really build on their recent success as they head into their new home, the Big 12.
Although we still may be months away from college football kicking off, spring ball is right around the corner. The Mountaineers first spring practice is scheduled for March 11, and the spring game will take place on April 21.
As we get ready for everything spring has to offer, here are the top five storylines to pay attention to.
How Will the Defense React This Season?
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Last year, West Virginia ran the odd 3-5-5 scheme that made things very difficult for the opposing offenses. This season, they look to have four down linemen, and things will look different because several coaching changes have taken place.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left West Virginia to join Rich Rodriguez out in Arizona. That now makes former Oklahoma State safeties coach Joe DeForest the co-defensive coordinator for the Mountaineers, and former Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was just hired as an assistant.
West Virginia's defense was ranked 61st in points allowed last season, and with seven starters returning, it'll be interesting to see how these coaching changes affect their production this season.
Just How Explosive Will This Offense Be?
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West Virginia had one of the most explosive offenses in the country last season, as they averaged nearly 38 points per contest. Eight starters on that side of the ball are returning, and that includes quarterback Geno Smith, who has the ability to win the Heisman next year.
With talented players such as Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey on the roster as well, this offense will likely be one of the most explosive in the country. Especially in a conference that isn't known for their defense.
With an offensive-minded coach like Dana Holgorsen heading into his second season with an offense as talented as this, the scoreboard could break with the amount of points that will likely be scored.
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Now that we know the Mountaineers will experience a change in the defensive scheme, it's also important to know that several key players on that side of the ball left as well. Replacing players like Bruce Irvin, Eain Smith, Najee Goode and Julian Miller is not going to be easy.
This leaves huge holes to fill on the defensive line and the linebacker position.
Several players, including Doug Rigg, Jared Barber, Tyler Anderson and Jewone Snow, will compete for roles at linebacker, while junior Will Clarke will become the leader on the defensive line and will be likely joined by J.B. Lageman and Jorge Wright.
Replacing a bunch of key players on one side of the ball is never an easy task, and this has to be the key question moving forward for the Mountaineers.
Running Back Questions
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Before last year's BCS Orange Bowl, running back Dustin Garrison sprained his MCL and ACL. The sophomore running back should be ready to play by the time the regular season starts, but he won't participate in spring ball.
This, of course, opens things up for the senior running back Shawne Alston, who had a solid game against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. He finished the game with 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns, showing glimpses of his potential with every carry. In his three-year career, he only has 159 touches, but if he can run like he did in the postseason, he will steal carries away from Garrison throughout the year.
The running back position is fine for the Mountaineers; the only question that remains is, who is going to be the feature back by the time the season starts?
How Will the Mountaineers Respond to Their New Diggs?
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This question obviously can't be answered during the spring, but it is a question that will be floating around until the regular season kicks off. West Virginia has always been one of the better teams in the Big East, but the Big 12 isn't as weak as the conference they've spent the last 21 years in.
West Virginia has a great team offensively, but the questions on defense could be what holds this team back. Regardless, this is a team that should be able to hold their own, and it's going to be fun to see exactly how well the Mountaineers play in their new home.
Randy Chambers is a B/R featured columnist that covers college football and the NFL. You can contact him @Randy_Chambers or Randy.Chambers7@yahoo.com.