West Virginia Football: Power Ranking the 9 Mountaineers WVU Will Miss Most

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 25, 2013

West Virginia Football: Power Ranking the 9 Mountaineers WVU Will Miss Most

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    West Virginia will say goodbye to a few of the best players to ever wear the gold and blue, including Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

    The newcomers and returners set to fill those roles will have not just numbers, but an entire legacy to live up to.

    So, between WVU's Big Three and the role players around them, who will the Mountaineers miss the most in 2012?

    Let's take a look.

9. J.D. Woods

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    After an unheralded three years, J.D. Woods emerged to be a solid No. 3 target in his senior season.

    He made some fantastic catches, including the grab pictured here that cemented West Virginia's shootout win over Baylor. In all, he finished with 61 catches for 637 yards and four touchdowns.

    Many receivers around the country would cherish these numbers. However, in this offense, that stat line is easily overlooked.

    Woods also suffered from some untimely drops, which soured an otherwise successful senior campaign.

    He'll be missed in Morgantown, but with a number of young receivers now lined up to earn their time, the absence of Woods won't likely be pined over.

8. Jeff Braun

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    On an otherwise inconsistent line, Jeff Braun was one of the few contributors who made an overall positive impact nearly every time he took the field.

    As a whole, the WVU line had its good games and its bad games.

    Braun started all 13 games and was a high-effort blocker.

    As the 2013 season rolls along, WVU could end up wishing Braun was back more than it is now.

    The offensive front will only return two starters, and the reserves have yet to show that they are capable of taking on the role that Braun and others held in 2012.

7. Josh Francis

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    The arrival of Josh Francis in Morgantown was very highly anticipated. Many tabbed him as the next Bruce Irvin because of his athleticism and rushing abilities.

    After recording just seven total tackles in 2011, it looked like he would hardly even figure into the linebacking mix in 2012. 

    He wasn't in the original starting 11 for West Virginia to begin the season, but after game one, he showed that he deserved that starting role.

    Francis started the next 12 games for WVU and tallied 57 tackles, a team-high 15 tackles for a loss and four QB hurries, plus 4.5 sacks—second only to Terence Garvin.

    WVU wasn't great rushing the passer last year, and without its two best pass rushers (Francis and Garvin), there's no telling where it will be in 2013.

    Someone will need to take on the rushing void left by Francis next season.

6. Terence Garvin

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    Terence Garvin was expected to be West Virginia's best defensive player in 2012.

    He had a solid year, but didn't quite live up to expectations. He made a few too many bonehead penalties, but he was still solid for the Mountaineers.

    Garvin finished with 77 tackles (No. 3 on the team), 11.5 tackles for a loss, a team-high six sacks, an interception, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

    After an up-and-down regular season, he finished his career with arguably the best game of his career in the Pinstripe Bowl. In fact, he was one of the few players on the team to have a great game at Yankee Stadium.

    A versatile hybrid safety, he fit in well in the "STAR" linebacker role.

    Shaq Petteway played well as a reserve last season and may end up taking that slot next season.

    Will he (or someone else) be able to take the next step and make the kind of plays that Garvin did throughout his career?

5. Joe Madsen

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    If you want to know just how much Joe Madsen will be missed by West Virginia, go back and watch the Pinstripe Bowl. Notice how terrible the WVU run blocking and pass protection were without Madsen.

    Jeff Braun actually did a decent job filling in with no snapping errors while Madsen was out. However, his absence still threw the entire line off, resulting in three sacks, two safeties and an average of 2.4 yards per carry for the Mountaineers.

    Luckily, WVU may have already lined up Madsen's replacement in the middle in JUCO transfer Stone Underwood. He has an awesome name, but will have have the skills and leadership abilities necessary to fill in for Madsen?

4. Shawne Alston

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    If Shawne Alston had been able to stay healthy in 2012, it would have changed the season for West Virginia.

    The Mountaineers would have been much better off against Texas Tech. In that contest, WVU stalled out a few late drives that would have put the Mountaineers right in the game. Without Alston's power rushing presence, WVU couldn't keep it close.

    Looking back, that game is just about West Virginia's entire season in a nutshell.

    Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison will return for the Mountaineers, but neither will bring the bruising power that Alston did. Another JUCO transfer, Dreamius Smith, is lined up to take on that role.

    Expectations are high for Smith, so WVU may not end up missing Alston very much. But until he meets those expectations, there is a big void left by No. 20.

3. Stedman Bailey

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    In just two years as a starter, Stedman Bailey annihilated WVU's career touchdown reception mark. After that, it was an easy choice for the junior to dart to the NFL.

    In fact, the previous career mark for TD catches was 23, set by Cedric Thomas. Bailey passed that in his junior season alone, hauling in 25 touchdowns.

    Bailey was one of the best deep threats in the country and, despite standing at just 5'10", was dynamite near the goal line.

    All things considered, he was robbed by the Los Angeles media for the Biletnikoff Award. He was beaten out by USC receiver Marquise Lee—an admittedly great receiver. However, Lee had just 14 touchdown catches—11 less than Bailey.

    Anyway, hardware or no hardware, it may be a long time before WVU has a receiver as prolific as Bailey.

2. Geno Smith

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    I find myself wondering if Dana Holgorsen came to WVU and immediately took a look at the record books. If so, he had to think, "That record is going down. That record is going down. That one is definitely going down."

    Thanks to the arrival of Holgorsen, Geno Smith was able to erase just about every WVU passing record ever set. He now leads the school with career and single-season marks for attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns.

    In other words, he's statistically the best quarterback in school history.

    Given those stats, WVU fans have to wonder why the Mountaineers finished with just a 7-6 record last season. It certainly wasn't the finish Smith and his squad were hoping for. 

    Still, the absence of WVU's quarterback and leader will be felt. The Mountaineers will return essentially zero experience at the position.

1. Tavon Austin

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    As Texas Tech and Oklahoma State have proven, quarterbacks are replaceable in the air-raid offense.

    Tavon Austins are much harder to come by.

    As WVU struggled through much of the season, Austin didn't. And what Austin did on the field was just astounding. 

    If he had only played in one game all year—against Oklahoma—that would still be enough for him to be No. 1 on this list. It was arguably the best single-game performance by any player in NCAA history against an elite defense. 

    A lot was made of what Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel did against that same defense in the Cotton Bowl. He accumulated 516 total yards, which is excellent. But Austin eclipsed that by 56 yards and did it all on the ground.

    The Mountaineers will bring in more playmakers in the coming years—but they won't bring in another Tavon Austin.