The West Virginia defense spent the 2012 college football season as a punchline to a host of witless jokes.
In 2013, this unit will come back determined to turn around that perception.
The group that was young this season will return with more experience, a few new faces and plenty to prove.
The expectations will be low, so can this group raise the bar?
Here's an early look at what the Mountaineer defense may look like in 2013:
Shaq Rowell will return to anchor the middle of a deep WVU DL unit.
DT: Christian Brown—So.
2. Kyle Rose—So.
3. Korey Harris—So.
NT: Shaq Rowell—Sr.
2. Imarjaye Albury—rFr.
DE: Will Clarke—Sr.
2. Eric Kinsey—So.
3. Dozie Ezemma—Sr.
West Virginia will not be at a shortage of depth on its defensive line 2013.
The Mountaineers will only lose defensive tackle Jorge Wright and will bring back starters Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell. They both had a successful 2012 campaigns and should not have too much trouble retaking their starting slots.
Here I have Christian Brown, a freshman nose tackle, moving over to DT for his second season. I believe he is the best of the bunch lined up to replace Wright.
However, this open slot could go any number of ways. Brown, Korey Harris, Kyle Rose and Eric Kinsey will all be in competition for playing time.
Brown is by far the biggest of the bunch at 300 pounds, while Harris, Kinsey and Ezemma are all undersized, less than 250 pounds. Kinsey should have the upper hand of all the smaller defensive linemen and will likely be the primary rotation player.
Regardless of who is named the starter, we'll likely see a rotation of these players, along with a few others.
Imarjaye Albury and Noble Nwachukwu both red-shirted in 2012 and could crack this rotation as well.
There are a lot of players to keep an eye on in this group, and we'll learn a lot more through the spring and summer.
Isaiah Bruce may need to take on an even larger role in his second season in Morgantown.
BUCK: Jewone Snow—Jr.
2. Garrett Hope—So.
3. D'Vante Henry—Jr.
STAR: Shaq Petteway—Jr.
2. Wes Tonkery—Jr.
WILL: Doug Rigg—Sr.
2. Jared Barber—Jr.
3. Darrien Howard—Fr.
SAM: Isaiah Bruce—So.
2. Nick Kwiatkoski—So.
3. Al-Rasheed Benton—Fr.
WVU will lose more at linebacker than any other unit on the defense. Here, the Mountaineers must replace Josh Francis and Terence Garvin.
Francis will leave open the Buck linebacker position, where he thrived over most of the season, showing off his rushing skills to lead the team with 4.5 sacks.
Garvin has departed from the Star linebacker position—a hybrid-safety slot where Garvin put together a nice year: 69 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups, one interception, one forced fumble and one recovery.
On the bright side, WVU will also return quite a bit of experience in the middle of its defense. Isaiah Bruce is a lock to take a starting position, as he was one of the Mountaineers' best defensive players this season.
Doug Rigg will also return to claim a starting role, but may share a good chunk of his time with junior Jared Barber.
Jewone Snow had an excellent 2011 campaign, but sat out this season due to injury. With an healthy offseason, he should have no problem making it back in to a starting role.
Replacing Garvin will likely be Shaq Petteway, who, like Garvin, made the move from safety to linebacker as WVU transitioned from the 3-3-5 to the 3-4 defense. Petteway had a nice season in 2012 and could really blossom in that hybrid slot.
Garrett Hope, Wes Tonkery and Nick Kwiatkoski will all figure into the mix as returners.
D'Vante Henry is one of WVU's junior college transfers and could definitely see a lot of playing time next year as well.
Finally, a couple of incoming freshman—Darrien Howard and Al-Rasheed Benton—could earn time once they arrive on campus. Given the amount of freshman that saw the field in 2012, I wouldn't be surprised if these two have their name called as well.
Will Brodrick Jenkins turn around the WVU secondary in 2013?
FCB: Ishmael Banks—Jr.
2. Terrell Chestnut—So.
3. Brandon Napoleon—Fr.
FS: Karl Joseph—So.
2. K.J. Dillon—So.
BS: Terrell Pinson—Jr.
2. Darwin Cook—Sr.
3. Malik Greaves—Fr.
BCB: Brodrick Jenkins—Sr.
2. Nana Kyeremeh—So.
3. Ricky Rumph—So.
The only way to go is up for the West Virginia secondary in 2013.
The Mountaineers finished 2012 No. 122 in the nation in passing defense.
Cornerback Pat Miller will be the only departure from this young group and many WVU fans will be glad to see him go.
Brodrick Jenkins will return at corner for his senior season, but he'll have to be better than he was in 2012, otherwise we could see another cornerback carousel like the one the Mountaineers used this season.
Opposite him, I have Ishmael Banks as the other starter, though the slot is really up in the air.
As the WVU coaching staff showed this year, any defensive back (safety or corner) could really step up and claim either of the starting slots.
This leaves the door open for Terrell Chestnut, Nana Kyeremeh, Brandon Napoleon, Avery Williams, Ricky Rumph and others. It's just a matter of who will walk through that doorway and decide to show the ability to lock down in coverage.
At safety, Karl Joseph—called the team's best defensive player by his coaching staff—is a no-doubter in the starting lineup. He was WVU's best playmaker and hardest hitter, so he'll most certainly have his slot as a starter.
At the other slot, Darwin Cook may not have it so easy. His 2012 campaign didn't go as planned, and he capped it of with an absolutely abysmal Pinstripe Bowl.
With junior college safety Terrell Pinson coming to Morgantown, Cook could lose his starting role.
K.J. Dillon saw some time in 2012 and could figure even more into the mix this upcoming season.
Finally, one of WVU's most highly-touted commits for the 2013 class is safety Malik Greaves. The youngster has the size and strength to make an immediate impact in the maligned Mountaineer secondary.