West Virginia Football: 5 Reasons Mountaineers Are Bound to Overachieve in 2013
There are plenty of reasons why the West Virginia football team could end up with a disappointing 2013 season.
The Mountaineers lost three of the most productive players in team history on offense, creating some glaring question marks on that side of the ball.
Then there's the elephant in the room: WVU's putrid 2012 defense. If that unit performs like it did last season, then this year will be downright ugly.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of factors that could end up playing in West Virginia's favor during the 2013 campaign.
Let's take a look the five biggest reasons why the Mountaineers might surprise, despite a disappointing 7-6 finish last year:
5. Year No. 2 in the Big 12 Conference
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West Virginia didn't know what it was getting itself into in its first season in the Big 12 Conference.
As a result, the Mountaineers fizzled out over the brunt of the season. WVU learned the hard way—through an embarrassing five-game losing streak—why the Big 12 is considered by some to be the strongest conference, top to bottom, in college football.
With that experience under their belt, the 2013 Mountaineers should be more prepared, both mentally and physically, for what lies ahead of them.
WVU still has a daunting back-to-back road trip, this time to Kansas State then TCU. However, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, two teams which gave this team a lot of trouble last season, will each come to Morgantown.
The first big test will come early, as the Mounties will head to Norman to take on Oklahoma in Week 2. How they perform there should be very telling as to what we can truly expect from them for the remainder of the season.
4. Improved Running Game
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West Virginia lacked consistency in its running game for a few reasons in 2012.
Early on, it looked like Shawne Alston was going to lead a respectable running attack in Morgantown, but injuries limited him almost the entire season.
Meanwhile, Andrew Buie came next in line and showed a lot of promise and even had a few excellent performance. However, in the end, he just didn't have the durability to take on the role as the feature back.
Dustin Garrison also contributed but wasn't quite himself when he did, as rehabilitation from his leg injury at the end of the 2011-12 season was ongoing.
Based on his spring performance, it looks like he'll be back and better than ever for 2013. He and Buie would make a formidable tandem by themselves, but WVU added another dangerous back to the mix as well in junior college transfer Dreamius Smith.
Smith might have the most upside out of the three, as he brings a combination of both size and speed that the smaller Garrison and Buie simply don't have.
The only real question mark for the ground game will be the performance of the offensive line. WVU hopes to have its answer to this question in the form of new offensive line coach Ron Crook, who helped to lead some bruising running attacks during his time at Stanford.
If Crook can help his linemen make similar strides in Morgantown, WVU might end up with one of the better running games in the conference.
3. Competition Breeds Success
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Talk to Nick Saban at Alabama and he'll tell you that competition breeds success.
While the Mountaineers don't have the depth of the Crimson Tide, they should benefit from some competition going into 2013.
Coaches always claim that all of their starting spots are up for grabs in the offseason, no matter who is returning. But at WVU, that is actually the case this offseason, as there are truthfully only five or six starting spots that are locked down.
At the quarterback position and beyond, this heated internal competition should not only serve as motivation for the players, but also help the best athletes to rise to the top.
Additionally, those players that end up with the starting spots will have an entirely new legacy to build for the program.
The Geno Smith/Tavon Austin/Stedman Bailey Era is over. Now is the time for the new Mountaineers—in their flashy new uniforms—to make their names known.
2. Improved Defense
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We all know how bad West Virginia's defense was in 2012.
The only way to go is up and the Mountaineers are poised to make a dramatic defensive improvement this season.
The main source of improvement will be experience. At the most basic level, the WVU defenders will have more games, more practice and more workout time under their belts. As a result, they should be better both mentally and physically.
This will be most obvious at the corner position, where the Mountaineers shuffled through a gamut of inexperienced players as their pass defense struggled mightily last year.
Additionally, this unit will have some help as well, as West Virginia has made some attempts to improve its pass rush.
The defensive line will be led by two seniors and should also benefit from the arrival of JUCO transfer Dontrill Hyman.
In its 3-4 scheme, WVU will also rely on a lot of its quarterback pressure from the linebacking corps. Here, the Mountaineers added even more JUCO talent—namely d'Vante Henry and Brandon Golson.
The JUCO route has worked as a quick fix for a lot of programs around the country, including Big 12 foe K-State. The Mountaineers will depend on it working for their defense in 2013.
1. Lowered Expectations
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Without Smith, Austin and Bailey, many college football fans around the country will struggle to name a single player on the WVU roster—so it's easy to understand why so little is expected of the Mountaineers in 2013.
Of course, there's the whole "chip on their shoulder" mentality that could help this group.
It worked for the WVU baseball team, which was unanimously picked to finish last in the Big 12 in 2013, and turned that into a third-place finish and nearly a berth in the conference title game (via Big12Sports.com).
What will help even more is the absence of pressure. The 2012 WVU football team was expected to not only hold its own in the Big 12, but to even compete for the conference title—if not the national title.
Early in the year, it looked like the Mountaineers would do just that. In the end, though, that pressure proved to be too much, as they ended up falling far short of those goals.
Now, without that outside pressure, the 2013 Mounties should be better equipped to play within themselves and with the intention of surprising those outsiders.
Finally, with expectations this low, it will only take a couple of key wins for this group to be considered overachieving.