Other than "Will Dana Holgorsen still be the coach in 2015?," the biggest question in Morgantown, West Virginia, the past few months has been "Who will start at quarterback?"
Holgorsen put an end to the latter (in a way he hopes will influence the former) Tuesday afternoon when he announced that Clint Trickett, the presumed favorite and a one-time Florida State Seminole, would get the nod under center in 2014.
"Clint is 100 percent healthy and is ready to play," said Holgorsen of Trickett, per Mike Montoro of WVUSports.com. "He worked hard last season and showed a lot of ability and leadership and deserves the chance to lead the team as a senior. He will be our starter."
Trickett missed all of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery this offseason, which is ostensibly why Holgorsen addressed the health issue. In his stead, fellow senior Paul Millard, who played in seven games to Trickett's eight last season, and junior college transfer Skyler Howard battled primarily to "take" Trickett's spot.
But neither of those names inspires much confidence, and neither has the upside of Trickett, who, at one point, was competing with Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker for the starting job at FSU. After Winston's breakout spring game in 2013, he transferred to WVU, but did not develop the accuracy or consistency that many hoped to see.
However, it is not like his year was without highlights:
Trickett didn't set the world on fire in the Mountaineers (inexplicable) upset win over Oklahoma State, but he was the starting quarterback, and he did complete 24 of 50 passes in that game.
The WVU defense was the dominant unit that afternoon, but the experience of playing (and beating) one of the best defenses in America—per the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, only five defenses were better last season—is precisely the sort of background one needs before lining up in Week 1 against Alabama (of all opponents).
And even when the outcome did not come out as rosy as it did against OSU, Trickett was not always at fault for West Virginia's struggles. Take, for example, his 9-of-28 passing performance in a 73-42 loss at Baylor. Trickett didn't play perfect football, but he stood in behind an atrocious offensive line and showed a surplus of toughness.
David Ubben of ESPN.com agreed with this sentiment:
Zero questions about his toughness RT @JdotPdot12 rewatched BU-WVU. Trickett got absolutely obliterated and he hung in there.— David Ubben (@davidubben) June 24, 2014
Additionally, Trickett posted his highest quarterback rating of 2013 in the season-finale against Iowa State, throwing 356 yards and a couple of touchdowns in the heartbreaking overtime loss. Less than a month later, he went under the knife to repair his torn labrum—an injury he had been playing with since the Oklahoma State game.
Which is to say: Trickett ended last season on a high note despite playing through the ostensible nadir of his shoulder injury. Beyond that, he has now had a full year to learn Dan Holgorsen's offense instead of the protracted four months between his transfer and the start of last season. With improved health and better command of the playbook, how could he not be better in 2014?
The timing of this move makes sense, as well.
Holgorsen gave Millard and Howard their chance to impress in the spring, and, once it became clear that neither was ready to seize—to actively seize—this job from Trickett, there was no need to drag the debate out all summer. So thinks Jonathan Martin of Scout.com:
Smart move by @Holgorsendana to name Clint Trickett starting QB. Now move forward in team preparation.— Jonathan Martin (@JonathanKMartin) June 24, 2014
A lot of things will need to go right for West Virginia to beat (or even hang with) Alabama. But even if it does not look pretty in the season opener, this offense is closer to being decent than people realize.
Especially at running back, where Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood (among others) combine with Pittsburgh transfer (and former 5-star recruit) Rushel Shell to form one of the deepest units in America, the Mountaineers should be adequately well-equipped to support their quarterback in 2014.
Trickett did not get much in the way of support last season, and, although he should not escape his share of culpability, he is in many ways set up for success next year. This team is more set up to help.
Trickett is, after all, still the guy who stepped in as a freshman against Clemson in 2011 and nearly led Florida State to an upset victory, throwing for 336 yards and three touchdowns in the process. We have seen how he can perform with the right weapons around him.
He deserves at least this one, final shot.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT