You may hardly recognize the West Virginia Mountaineers that take the field for the 2013 college football season.
Gone will be three-year starting quarterback Geno Smith, his two favorite wide receivers; Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, three offensive linemen and running back Shawne Alston. The defense will return a number of starters, but that side of the ball—led by a new coordinator and position coaches—could look completely different as well.
Shoot, WVU may even be sporting new uniforms.
Traditionally, Dana Holgorsen's air raid offense has started with the quarterback. Holgorsen's field general will still primarily be what makes the offense run smoothly, but next season could see more of a transition to the ground game.
With Smith on the way out, the quarterback situation in Morgantown is as foggy as it has been in perhaps the last decade.
As many as three quarterbacks currently on the roster are expected to compete for next year's lead job, and another horse—junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy—could enter the race, if he ends up at WVU.
Whoever claims the job as signal-caller will will have to deal with the receiving corps losing its top three players from this season, along with secondary options Travares Copeland, Ivan McCartney and Ryan Nehlen. Only Dante Campbell and K.J. Myers will bring a touchdown reception from the 2012 into the 2013 season—and they each had just one this year.
So with the passing game in a dramatic flux, the ground game will be that much more important.
Even with a cemented passing attack in 2012, the WVU offense was much more efficient when it could find success on the ground.
The Mountaineers averaged 54.3 points per game when they ran for more than 150 yards, but just 28.8 points when netting less than 150 on the ground. In other words, WVU nearly doubled its scoring output when it ran the ball successfully.
That wide gap didn't come as a coincidence, either.
When WVU was able to run the ball, it took pressure off the passing game. In turn, West Virginia was almost unstoppable offensively.
Much of this had to do with Shawne Alston, who entered the season as the outright starter.
He went down early in the season and missed a huge chunk of action in the middle of the slate. When he returned late, he was effective at times but more so as a compliment to Tavon Austin.
In his stead, Andrew Buie found success in a few games, but he lacked the physical presence brought by the 236-pound Alston. He'll return next season, along with 2011 starter Dustin Garrison, but since both of the backs check in at less than 190 pounds, neither are really a viable option as an every-down back, as talented as they may be. Holgorsen was the first to admit this during the 2012 campaign.
Regardless, WVU will need both of them to share the load without Alston, or even Austin, who garnered a number of carries late in the season. Still, the Mountaineers will need more than just this duo on the ground.
Enter Dreamius Smith—a Wichita, Kansas, native who will transfer to WVU from Butler Community College. West Virginia announced the signing of Smith and three other JUCO prospects on Dec. 20.
According to the press release, the 215-pound back was billed as the No. 2 JUCO running back by 247sports.com, and he is rated as an 81-overall 4-star by ESPN. In the video to the right, Smith shows a great blend of size and speed, as his Butler squad annihilated a team called Highland—perhaps the school "Gil Harris" went to in The New Guy.
In the film, Harris did what he had to do to immediately fit in at his new school. And with two junior college national title appearances, more than 1,000 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns under his belt, Smith could become one of the popular kids the minute he steps foot in Morgantown.
I wouldn't even put it out of reach for Smith to win the starting job by September.
Whether he is starting or sharing carriers, Smith will likely have his share of responsibility in the offense in 2013.
WVU's offensive success started on the ground in 2012, and that will be no different in 2013. The only difference will be which players are at the epicenter of the seismic shock.