Some doubt WVU because of their season long struggles in the Big East in 2011, including losses to Louisville and Syracuse. Their final three regular season games against Big East opponents were won by a total of seven points! Sure, they lit it up Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but it wasn't because Clemson wasn't ready or didn't deserve to be there.
There was one big reason why the Mountaineers rolled up 70 points against the ACC Champions: Practice. The Holgorsen offense is relatively simple, but requires precise timing and nearly automatic execution. It must be simple, quick and reflexive.
The Mountaineers had a month to practice what they had been doing all season before the Orange Bowl, and executed it as designed for the first time. I have seven reasons they will contend for the Big 12 Championship:
Reason number one - Defensive coaches—Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel, All but one of his assistants and the 3-3-5 "play not to lose" defense is gone. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen was able to bring in his own staff, mostly from Big 12 schools, to implement a 3-4/4-3 defense.
This is an attacking defense led by co-Defensive Coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. An excellent staff of defensive coaches installed this new defense in the spring. The players love it. This defense will not play soft.
Reason number two - Defensive players—Seven starters return from the 2011 defense plus several others with significant playing time. Last year's defense lost four starters to graduation and the NFL, but look for them to reload and improve.
Will Clarke, DE and Jorge Wright, NT are in the best shape of their lives. A group of linebackers and defensive backs led by LB Terence Garvin and DB Pat Miller return that are talented and fast. This defense practices every day against two of the most talented and prolific receivers in the country, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Reason number three - Offensive line—We're talking more muscle, better endurance and experience. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is putting together a unit with everyone playing their natural positions, with an attitude he defines as "nasty". It starts with the center, Joey Madsen, who is 6'4 310 and the Remington Trophy candidate. Also returning is Josh Jenkins, 6'4 303, All Big East lineman out last year due to injury, Jeff Braun- 6'5 315, has moved back to his regular position at RG.
Also, Quinton Spain 6'5 330, is reaching his potential. Rounding out the starters going into fall camp is Pat Eger at 6'6, 305, with 12 starts. Two others expected to push hard for playing time are Curtis Feight 6'7 320 and junior college transfer Mark Glowinski- 6'5 305. Expect this unit to be quick, agile and very strong.
Reason number four—Running Backs -. Everyone saw Shawne Alston 5'11 230, and Andrew Buie 5'9 190, shine in the Orange Bowl. What they didn't see was the top running back for 2011, Dustin Garrison 5'8 190, the ECAC freshman of the year for 2011. He's back, with a vengeance. So are Ryan Clarke 6'0 225 and Donovan Miles 6'1 241. With the experience and talent of the offensive line, WVU will not be one dimensional in 2012.
Reason number five—Receivers— Arguably the best unit in the nation. Starting with Tavon Austin 5'9 180, and one of the few players to gain more receiving yards than Austin last year, Stedman Bailey 5'10 190.
As they say on TV, "but wait, there's more!" Also returning are JD Woods- 6'1 190, who can stretch the field and steady Ryan Nehlen 6'3 205. WVU has some ultra talented freshmen that may be impossible to keep off the field. First is Jordan Thompson 5'8 175 who turned heads in spring practice and has now been named a starter. Also included are Will Johnson 6'6 240 and Cody Clay 6'3 250 as inside receivers.
Reason number six—Quarterback—Geno Smith 6'3 225, preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy candidate. Bigger, stronger and smarter. Smith doesn't just beat you with his arm, but also his brain. He is becoming more synchronized with the teachings of Coach Holgorsen when checking off plays at the line of scrimmage. He now makes his throwing decisions after the plays start and the defense shows it's hand.
Smith's backup, Paul Millard 6'1 225, is primed and ready to step in if needed. Millard "took" the backup position with his much improved play in the final two practices. The coaches and players have confidence in him.
Reason number seven - Familiarity with Big XII - Five WVU coaches came to WVU from Big XII schools. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen coached at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest coached at Oklahoma State. QB coach Jake Spavital came from Oklahoma State. RB coach Robert Gillespie coached at Texas Tech. OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh coached at Texas Tech.
Considering all these factors, WVU should be favored to win the Big XII and more!
What do you think? Comments welcome and appreciated.