West Virginia Football: 10 Things the Mountaineers Have to Do to Win a BCS Title
After dismantling Marshall 69-34 in the season-opener last Saturday, the West Virginia football team is using its bye week this week to prepare for the rest of the season.
The Mountaineers offense appears to be one of the most explosive and powerful attacks that you're going to find in college football this year.
With QB Geno Smith and his dynamic wide receiver duo of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey leading the way, it looks like this team has the potential to not just compete for a Big 12 title this season, but a BCS championship as well.
Here's a look at 10 things that West Virginia will have to do in 2012 in order to make it all the way to the national title game in Miami Gardens in January.
Find a Dangerous Third Receiving Target
Everyone around college football already knows about West Virginia's two top wide receivers—Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, given that they both put together outstanding campaigns last year.
Opposing defenses will be focused on keeping Austin and Bailey contained this season, which means that a third wide receiver has to step up and become a reliable target and productive member of the passing game in 2012.
Veterans J.D. Woods and Ivan McCartney, and freshmen Jordan Thompson and K.J. Myers could all end up being the receiver who fills that role, but the most capable candidate is Woods.
The 6'1'', 190-pound senior matched his entire catch total from last year in just the first game of the season against Marshall this past weekend, when he hauled in seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Woods possesses great speed and quickness for his size, and he should present a lot of matchup problems this year, as defenses will only be able to stick their third or fourth best defensive back on him in coverage.
Hopefully, the experienced pass-catcher will take advantage of teams focusing on Austin and Bailey and finally step up and play a key role in the offense in 2012.
Ride Shawne Alston in the Running Game
Last year, RB Shawne Alston was used primarily in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and he only ended up carrying the ball 97 times.
Still, Alston managed to make the most of his limited touches, as he rushed for 416 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.
This season, it seems like the powerful 5'11'', 236-pound senior will play a much bigger role in the offense now that West Virginia will be looking to establish the run on a more consistent basis in the Big 12.
Since the status of last year's leading rusher Dustin Garrison is still uncertain, Alston should be called upon to be the team's featured back in 2012, and it's a role that he should thrive in.
West Virginia doesn't have to employ a completely balanced 50-50 pass-run offensive attack in order to be successful. Nevertheless, letting Alston soften up defenses with his physical running style should add another valuable dimension to the team's already potent attack.
Toughen Up in the Trenches
West Virginia's offensive line had an up-and-down season in 2011.
There were games that the Mountaineers looked great up front, but then there also disastrous performances against the likes of Syracuse, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as well.
This season, the front-five is loaded with experienced and talented veterans such as center Joe Madsen, guards Josh Jenkins and Jeff Braun and tackle Pat Eger.
Ultimately, it seems like the group should be able to go toe-to-toe with any defensive line that it will face in 2012.
If new starting left tackle Quinton Spain can protect Geno Smith's blindside, this line should be good enough to handle the bigger, more athletic defensive fronts that they'll face in the Big 12 this year.
Employ a Bend but Don’t Break Defensive Philosophy
Given all of the firepower that West Virginia has on the offensive side of the ball, it's clear that the team's defense certainly won't have to be a dominant unit in order for the Mountaineers to win a lot of games in 2012.
Instead, new defensive coordinator Joe DeForest should be able to play a bend-but-don't-break-style of play this year.
Giving up chunks of yards and letting teams drive down the field won't exactly be the worst thing in the world, as long as the defense tightens up when it counts and keeps teams out of the end zone.
Put Together a Consistent Pass-Rush
The defense may not have to be spectacular this season, but one thing that coordinator Joe DeForest is going to have to figure out how to do is create ways to get a consistent pass-rush.
There are just too many solid quarterbacks in the Big 12 this year, and the Mountaineers simply won't have the option of just letting them sit back in the pocket and pick the secondary apart.
Although the team lost its two best pass-rushers from 2011—Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, who combined for 14.5 sacks last year—there are still enough capable players in the 3-4 defensive front to get the job done.
Junior defensive end Will Clarke has the potential to be a breakout star this season, and converted safety Terence Garvin, who had the team's only sack of the game against Marshall, should be able to create constant pressure off the edge as well.
Play Solid on Special Teams
West Virginia's special teams had a reputation for being very spotty during Bill Stewart's tenure, especially the kick coverage units.
The special teams certainly weren't great during Dana Holgorsen's first season last year.
They were good enough, though, especially with Tavon Austin flourishing as a returner.
This year, the Mountaineers welcome back Austin and two experienced seniors—Tyler Bitancurt and Corey Smith—to handle the kicking and punting duties.
If Austin can replicate his 2011 success again this year, and if both Bitancurt and Smith prove to be reliable and dependable in their respective roles, West Virginia has the chance to have a really solid season in the special teams department in 2012.
Any coach will tell you that you should never underestimate the importance of having quality special teams units, as they can often be the difference between a very good season and a great season.
Get Another MVP Season from Geno Smith
You couldn't build a better quarterback from scratch that would fit Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid-style passing system as well as Geno Smith does.
Smith's the type of strong-armed, smart decision-maker who is perfectly suited to excel in Holgorsen's offense. He proved that last season by throwing for over 4,300 yards and hitting 31 touchdown strikes compared to just seven interceptions.
Judging from his masterful performance against Marshall in the season-opener, in which he completed 32 of his 36 passes for 323 yards and accounted for five touchdowns, it seems the 6'3'', 214-pound senior signal-caller is now destined for another monster campaign in 2012.
Smith is truly West Virginia's undisputed MVP, and he now seems like he's ready to take that next step towards becoming an elite national star this season.
If Smith can keep up the pace all year long, the Mountaineers have the chance to beat every single team on their schedule this fall.
Handle Business Against Inferior Opponents
In recent years, it's seemed that in every season, West Virginia has always lost at least one game to an inferior opponent that it definitely shoudn't have.
Last year, the Mountaineers lost to Syracuse and Louisville.
In 2010, they lost to Syracuse and Connecticut.
In 2009, they lost to South Florida and Florida State
In 2008, they lost to East Carolina and Colorado.
This season, that has to stop. West Virginia better not overlook a team like Baylor, Texas Tech or Iowa State just because they aren't a top-ranked conference contender.
The coaching staff and players have to treat every game with equal importance, or else the trend of getting caught off guard by a weaker team will continue in 2012.
Step Up in Spotlight Games
Most fans have pointed to the Oklahoma game on Nov. 17 as West Virginia's biggest game of the season. While that's obviously a huge matchup, it's definitely not the only tough battle on the 2012 schedule.
Home dates with Kansas State and TCU, and road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State will all be very challenging as well.
Since they were a member of the Big East for the past few decades, the Mountaineers aren't exactly used to playing five big spotlight games in a single season.
That's why it should be interesting to see how the team responds to the pressure and how the players perform on a big national stage.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Top 10 Hype
West Virginia is currently ranked in the top 10 of a regular season poll for the first time since Week 2 of the 2008 season.
It's great for the program, and it offers tremendous national exposure for the school, but with that kind of high ranking comes a lot of pressure and expectations.
It may sound cliché, but the coaching staff has to make sure that the players take this season one week and one game at a time.
Luckily, the Mountaineers have the type of strong veteran leadership, especially on offense, to keep the team focused and disciplined this season.
This team has the explosive weapons on offense and enough talent on defense to compete for both a Big 12 title as well as a national championship in 2012.
Still, there are 11 games left on the schedule, and it's a slate that includes five teams that are currently ranked in the top 25.
Nothing's going to come easy this year, but that's what should make the Mountaineers' first season in the Big 12 so much fun.
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