West Virginia Football: What You Need to Know About Mountaineers' Top Seniors

Jack Owens@@jackjowensCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2012

West Virginia Football: What You Need to Know About Mountaineers' Top Seniors

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    The No. 11 ranked team in the AP and USA Today polls is entering its first year as a part of the Big 12 conference—a conference far superior to the Big East conference that they have left behind.

    West Virginia is led by a strong senior class, and all of them are products of the former Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart. Stewart inherited the program once Rich Rodriguez left to take the vacant head coaching job at Michigan at the end of the 2007 season. 

    Stewart has since been replaced by Dana Holgorsen, a young, enthusiastic leader who has installed a run-and-shoot offense that suits the Mountaineers' personnel well.

    Holgorsen—who won an Orange Bowl in his first season in charge in Morgantown—has even higher expectations for his second year on the job.

    With a very difficult schedule that features games against six opponents currently ranked in the Top 25, West Virginia has their work cut out for them, but they also have a great chance to make some noise in the postseason.

    If they want to make this noise, and maybe even earn a berth in the National Championship game, they will need to rely on these eight seniors to take them there.

    Here are those seniors along with what every college football fan needs to know about them.

     

    All stats, heights and weights are courtesy of wvusports.com.

Running Back Shawne Alston

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    Measurables: 5'11'', 236 pounds

    2011 Stats: 97 rush, 416 yds, 12 TD

     

    While most defenses matched up against the handful that is the West Virginia offense will be worrying about Geno Smith and the passing game, they should not forget about running back Shawne Alston.

    Alston is a huge running back, and a short yardage specialist who makes his limited touches count in the team's pass-first offense. 

    The senior can run the ball inside the tackles on a consistent basis, and he also provides a solid complement to an otherwise speed based offensive attack.

    With wide receiver Tavon Austin being the other primary ball carrier in Holgorsen's offense, Alston and Austin are compatible backfield mates who have opposite strengths and weaknesses.  

    If West Virginia is able to cruise to early leads in the fall—unlikely because of their difficult schedule but possible because they are so good—look for Austin to carry the load and pound teams out of the stadium.

    If Alston can provide some balance to the run-and-shoot offense, as well as open up the play action, Stedman Bailey and the receiver you will see in the following slide will turn every game into a track meet.

Wide Receiver Tavon Austin

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    Measurables: 5’9”, 174 pounds

    2011 Stats: 101 rec, 1,186 yds, 8 TD; 16 rush, 182 yds, TD; served as primary return man, scoring twice on kick returns


    One of the most dynamic players in college football, Tavon Austin has a chance to win the Heisman Trophy or the Fred Biletnikoff Award given to the nation's top receiver.

    Though undersized, Tavon Austin has highlight-reel speed and ankle-breaking agility.

    Austin is a game breaker in the same way that former college greats like Peter Warrick and Percy Harvin were. The Baltimore native recorded the most all-purpose yards in the NCAA a year ago with more than 2,500 due to the fact that he is a threat as a returner, receiver and runner.

    It is also difficult to double-team the talented receiver. Redshirt junior Stedman Bailey, who lines up as the other receiver in the West Virginia offense, outproduced Austin on the receiving end a year ago, and is arguably the better receiver of the two. 

    With Austin's speed and the inability of defenses to key in on him, life will be pretty easy for quarterback Geno Smith.

    Though his size leads many to think he is only effective out of the slot, Austin is physical enough to go inside and work underneath routes.

    He is the complete package as a returner and slot receiver as far as NFL standards go, but Austin will look to prove people wrong by becoming a reliable No. 1 receiver for the Mountaineers in 2012. With the ability to make people miss in the open field, Austin will be an asset to whichever team overlooks his size and believes in his talent.

    Expect Austin to tear through the mostly average secondaries in the Big 12.

Star Linebacker Terence Garvin

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    Measurables: 6'3'', 221 pounds

    2011 Stats: 72 TACK, 3.5 SACK, 2 INT

     

    After playing defensive back for the Mountaineers and effectively holding opponent's receivers in check, Garvin will be asked to play closer to the front seven in 2012.

    Though he is a "star" in the sense that he is a great player on a solid West Virginia defense, Garvin will be playing the hybrid "star linebacker" position that the West Virginia defense uses to combat its opponent’s speed.

    Garvin will have to use his large frame to take on tight ends and offensive linemen in the run game as well as cover wide receivers down the field.

    The senior is certainly up to the task, as he has the skill set to be able to cover any player on another team's offense, as well as rush the passer and stop the run.

    His balanced all-around numbers from a year ago make Garvin an ideal candidate for the hybrid linebacker position.

    He may have his hands full with the pass-happy Big 12 teams that often put four wide receivers on the field at a time, but Garvin is talented enough to make plays and be the impact player every good defense needs.

Center Joe Madsen

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    Measurables: 6'4'', 305 pounds

    2011 Stats: Started all 13 games. 55 knockdowns, 4.2 knockdowns per game (led team)

     

    A three-year starter at center, Madsen has started all 38 career games that he has been active for since his redshirt freshmen season in 2009. As a junior, Madsen made several All-Big East teams for his strong play.

    The interior linemen has been a staple of the Mountaineer offense, as he proves the difference between West Virginia and a lot of other contending teams is that they actually have a strong offensive line.

    Madsen is the anchor to this strong O-line, as he plays next to fellow redshirt senior, left guard Jeff Braun.

    The two protect Geno Smith and the rest of the offense well, paving the way for what should be one of the best offensive juggernauts in the NCAA in 2012.

    But Madsen and Braun are not the last of the redshirt seniors on the offensive line. The Mountaineers use one other old, but still NCAA-eligible, linemen to protect and anchor one of the best offenses in the nation.

Left Tackle Josh Jenkins

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    Measurables: 6’4’’, 303 pounds

    2011 Stats: Redshirt year 

     

    The two-year starter at left tackle and Parkersburg, West Virginia native had to sit out what would have been his senior season after suffering a knee injury in the spring.

    Luckily, the talented tackle had yet to use his redshirt year after being groomed to take over the left tackle position during just his sophomore year.

    Jenkins was named to the All-Big East second team by rivals.com and college football analyst Phil Steele as a junior in 2010 (h/t wvusports.com).

    Heavily recruited out of high school, Jenkins also appeared in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

    He combines with Joe Madsen and Jeff Braun to provide strength and experience on the left side of the West Virginia O-line. You can be sure if the Mountaineers need a few yards or a conversion on fourth down, they will be running to the left behind Jenkins.

    Another player who could see his draft stock soar with a strong senior year and a lot of West Virginia wins, Jenkins will be motivated to succeed in 2012.

Kicker Tyler Bitancourt

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    Measurables: 6'1'', 205 pounds

    2011 Stats: 16-of-22 field goals, long of 45

     

    A starter since his freshmen season, Bitancourt is fifth on the all-time West Virginia field goals made list, going 39-for-54 in his career.

    He is also third in PAT made, benefiting from a productive offense en route to 143 PAT makes in his career.

    A dependable force on special teams, Bitancourt is another player who strengthens the Mountaineers in all facets of the game.

    The four-year starter has performed in front of big crowds, and can certainly handle the pressure. Should the Mountaineers have to make a big kick, Bitancourt's veteran experience should serve his team and himself well.

Nose Tackle Jorge Wright

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    Measurables: 6'2'', 291 pounds

    2011 Stats: 38 TACK, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 SACK

     

    Entering his third year as the starter at nose tackle, the Miami native has been a key cog in the middle of the Mountaineer defense.

    Though he is not overwhelmingly large and does not display great pass-rushing skills, Wright is strong at the point of attack and keeps offensive linemen from getting to the next level and creating big plays.

    2011 was his most productive season, as he registered 10 tackles in both his redshirt freshmen and sophomore seasons before elevating to 38 as a redshirt junior.

    Look for Wright to continue to elevate his game and be a handful for interior linemen in the middle of the field.

    With an effective blend of size and quickness, a strong season from Wright could have NFL teams very interested in the nose tackle's talents.

Quarterback Geno Smith

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    Measurables: 6’3’’, 215 pounds

    2011 Stats: 346 Att, 526 comp, 4,385 yds, 31 TD, 7 INT

     

    Smith is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, as well as the Davey O’Brien Award given to the nation’s best quarterback.

    Though he was one of the top quarterbacks in the nation a year ago, many feel he is not receiving enough hype heading in to the 2012 season.

    One can see towards the end of Kirk Herbstreit's 12th annual "Herbie Awards" that Smith finishes at No. 2 on Rodney Dangerfield's "Players who don't get enough respect" list (h/t ESPN.com).

    If you scroll down that far, you will also notice Herbstreit's love of Smith's teammate Tavon Austin.

    Smith has the ideal size, arm strength, and athleticism to dominate the college game, yet he is still talked about in the same light as Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Florida State's EJ Manuel, and is behind guys like USC's Matt Barkley and Tennessee's Tyler Bray.

    In his second year under the tutelage of Holgorsen, Smith should put up the kind of numbers that blow these guys away—aside from Barkley who is in a similar pass-happy scheme.

    This added to West Virginia entering their first year in the Big 12, where many shootouts are sure to occur, and Smith could break records in his final year in Morgantown.

    If the Mountaineers end up winning a lot of games and make a push for the National Championship, Smith will get a lot of the credit, and deservedly so.

    Look for Smith to finish close to the high yardage total he posted a year ago, while throwing closer to 40 touchdowns as the Mountaineer offense leaves its mark on the Big 12.