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West Virginia Football: Ranking Which Players Dana Holgorsen Will Rely on Most

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2016

West Virginia Football: Ranking Which Players Dana Holgorsen Will Rely on Most

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    Dana Holgorsen's squad features a bevy of playmakers in Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Dustin Garrison, but when the game is in crunch time, West Virginia's head coach will lean on quarterback Geno Smith to finish the job.

    The offensive leader of the Mountaineers orchestrated a nationally televised dismantling as West Virginia squeezed the life out of Clemson in the Orange Bowl by the lopsided score of 70-33. 

    With Smith in his final year at the helm, West Virginia looks poised to do big things in its first year playing in the Big 12. 

    Let's take a look at which players Holgorsen will lean on the most in 2012. 

10. Terence Garvin, LB

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    When he's not chowing down on some free pretzels and Gatorade (via Yahoo!), safety-turned-linebacker Terence Garvin swallows up ball-carriers by the handful. 

    Since arriving at West Virginia, the 6'2", 222-pounder has blossomed into a versatile chess piece for a team that isn't known for its defense. 

    In two seasons as a starting safety, Garvin has racked up 84 tackles and 10 sacks. 

    The Baltimore native will switch to star linebacker in the Mountaineers' new 3-4 scheme, according to the team's official website

    With top pass-rushers Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller gone, Garvin will be one of the most important defenders for WVU. 

9. Josh Jenkins, G

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    Josh Jenkins was supposed to be a star. 

    As Scouts Inc.'s top-ranked guard of the 2008 class, the West Virginia native was atop recruiting lists next to flashy names like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith and Patrick Peterson. 

    Unfortunately for the former 5-star recruit, his college career has been marred by injuries. 

    The 6'4", 291-pounder boasts 24 starts at left tackle, but was forced to redshirt last season after suffering a knee injury. 

    If Jenkins can harness the natural ability that made him such a coveted recruit, it'll make Geno Smith and Dana Holgorsen's jobs much easier. 

8. Will Clarke, DE

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    Defensive lineman Will Clarke's 2011 stats don't nearly measure up to his enormous frame, but Dana Holgorsen will have to rely on the 6'6", 269-pounder to make a big jump in 2012. 

    After spending two years as a defensive end in West Virginia's 3-3-5 scheme, the redshirt junior's length should be utilized more effectively as he plays 3-4 defensive end.

    In 11 starts last season, the long-limbed lineman posted 34 tackles and a pair of sacks. 

    With a new defensive scheme and another year of experience under his belt, Clarke should be an impact player. 

7. Joe Madsen, C

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    With 38 starts on his resume, it should come as no surprise that center Joe Madsen will be a critical player for Dana Holgorsen this year.

    The redshirt senior boasts both the experience and leadership to anchor an offensive line in charge of protecting the invaluable Geno Smith. 

    After redshirting in 2008, Madsen has steadily improved his play in three seasons as the quarterback of the offensive line.

    For his strong 2011 season, the 6'4", 310-pounder was named to ESPN's All-Big East First Team. 

    In order for the offense to operate effectively, it'll be up to Madsen to make the calls at the line and excel as a blocker. 

6. Darwin Cook, S

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    On a defense that included 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin, it was Darwin Cook who often stood out for the Mountaineers. 

    In his first season as a starter, the Cleveland native burst onto the scene with 85 tackles, just two off the pace for the team lead. 

    The 5'11", 204-pounder also proved to be a clutch playmaker as his 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl was one of the many highlights in West Virginia's 70-33 trouncing of Clemson. 

    With a solid size/speed physical package, Cook is an impact defender who Dana Holgorsen will lean on in 2012.

5. Shawne Alston, RB

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    Shawne Alston is no stranger to carrying the load for an offense. 

    As a senior at Phoebus High (Va.), the 5'11", 221-pounder rushed for an eye-popping 2,278 yards, including 971 yards in the state playoffs. 

    The former 3-star recruit hasn't been able to secure the starting running back spot, but has proven to be a key role player in West Virginia's multi-faceted offense. 

    In only 97 carries, the junior tailback managed to find the end zone 12 times last year. 

    Alston's hard-charging running style and stocky build make him an effective goal-line option and a solid first- and second-down back. 

4. Dustin Garrison, RB

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    It's a shame that Dustin Garrison spent the Orange Bowl standing on crutches rather than toting the rock. 

    Playing in an offense full of experienced weapons, the diminutive but electrifying back had an excellent freshman season in Dana Holgorsen's debut year as head coach. 

    In eight starts, the 5'9", 166-pounder rushed for a team-high 742 yards and a half-dozen touchdowns while chipping in 24 catches. 

    However, his season came to a tragic end just days before West Virginia's bowl game as Garrison tore his ACL and sprained his MCL. 

    According to a June 13 report by Josh Sickles of Trib Total Media, the sophomore is working hard to return to full strength by the start of the season. 

    If he's able to get back in football shape, look for Garrison to still be a key contributor on offense. 

3. Stedman Bailey, WR

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    Stedman Bailey won't intimidate cornerbacks with his size (5'10", 190 pounds), but Geno Smith's high school teammate makes his living by running good routes and catching nearly every pass that comes in his direction. 

    The former Miramar High (Fla.) standout came to West Virginia in 2009 along with Smith, but didn't experience his breakout season until 2011. 

    Luckily for Mountaineers fans, the wait was well worth it. 

    Displaying great chemistry with his longtime teammate, Bailey snagged 72 catches and led the team in both yards (1,279) and touchdowns (12). 

    With just one more year of the Smith-Bailey tandem, you can bet Dana Holgorsen will expect big things out of the potent pair. 

2. Tavon Austin, WR

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    If you're searching for the next Percy Harvin, Tavon Austin might be your man. 

    Like the former Florida Gators star and current Minnesota Viking, Austin finds a way to overcome size concerns to dominate in all three facets of the game. 

    Although he had offers from programs like Georgia, Penn State and Michigan, the former 5-star running back chose to come to West Virginia the same year the Mountaineers managed to scoop up Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey. 

    Since the moment he stepped on the field, the 5'9", 174-pounder has been an elite playmaker. 

    After being a steady contributor as a sophomore, Austin exploded onto the national scene as a junior, racking up 101 catches for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns through the air while averaging 11.4 yards on 16 carries. 

    West Virginia's go-to playmaker was also dynamic in the return game, averaging 14.1 yards per punt return while taking two kickoffs to the house. 

    When the Mountaineers need to score, you better believe Dana Holgorsen will call Austin's name. 

Geno Smith, QB

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    During my junior year of playing varsity football at Everglades High (Fla.), I had the privilege of facing Geno Smith, who just happened to star for our biggest rival Miramar High.

    Although that game featured several future college players in Northern Illinois linebacker Devon Butler, Middle Tennessee State linebacker Roderic Blunt and of course West Virginia's Stedman Bailey, Smith stood out as the best player on the field. 

    As he enters his final year at West Virginia, Smith may not necessarily be the best player on the field, but he certainly will be the most important for Dana Holgorsen. 

    The senior quarterback went from a player with potential to a breakout star in 2011, ranking fourth in the NCAA with 4,385 passing yards. 

    For his career, the 6'3", 214-pound signal-caller has posted an elite 56:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

    Due to his strong 2011 campaign, Smith has risen up draft boards and is currently projected to be a second-round pick, according to NFLDraftScout.com.

    Despite a change in defensive scheme, Holgorsen can rest well at night knowing his offense is in Smith's hands. 

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