Two years ago the Mountaineers lost Rich Rodriguez, now they have lost Pat White. No one thought West Virginia could win without RichRod but they went 9-4 (5-2 in the Big East) and won their fourth straight bowl game. The Mountaineers now have to win without the face of the program in Pat White. West Virginia does have a few key starters returning as well as a handful of role players who are looking to come in and make a splash.
If you are a WVU fan, then you have heard the name Jarrett Brown. Brown is the lucky individual who gets the task of replacing Pat White. This year will not be the first time we have seen Jarrett Brown on the playing field. I am sure most of us remember the triple-overtime game against Rutgers his freshman year. He collected 317 yards of total offense, 244 through the air and 73 on the ground, also had a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. There are other key contributors returning this year to help out Brown on offense and none is "bigger" than Noel Devine. Last season Devine ran for 1,289 yards with four touchdowns. The stat that blows my mind though is the whopping 6.3 yards per carry he had. The wide receivers look to be solid this year with Alric Arnett and Jock Sanders headlining the crew. Arnett and Sanders combined for 928 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns last year, but expect those numbers to go up with the pass first, run second Brown. Also returning at the wide receiver positions are Wes Lyons and Bradley Starks, as well as new comer Logan Heastie. The offensive line has lost a few upperclassmen in Ryan Stanchek, Greg Isdaner, and Mike Dent but replacing them are a solid group of players in Josh Jenkins, Selvish Capers, and Eric Jobe. A position that has not been a significant position under Rodriguez is tight end. Will Johnson and Tyler Urban look to be the starters and expect them to be used more this year under offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
When is the last time you thought this, "man our defense is going to be such a strength this year." Well you can finally think it, say it, or sing it because ladies and gentlemen, the defense for the West Virginia Mountaineers is a major strength this year. The Mountaineers have six returning starters on defense and you could say seven with linebacker Reed Williams returning from shoulder injuries. The strength of this defense is definitely the linebacking corp. Starting with Reed Williams is J.T. Thomas. He collected 65 tackles last year, including a team high 10 tackles for loss. Pat Lazear could be the third starter on defense and he is looking to carry the momentum from the game clinching interception he had in last years Meineke Car Care Bowl into this season. The safeties also seem to bring nothing but positive talks amongst Mountaineer fans with two of three starters returning. Sophomore sensation Robert Sands is looking for another big year after he wrapped up 33 tackles last season as well as a forced fumble in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which led to the game winning touchdown. It does not appear that any team who faces the Mountaineers this year will be able to run the ball. Scooter Berry and Chris Neild combined for 81 tackles last year, including four sacks and ten tackles for loss. Hoping to emerge this year is sophomore defensive end Julian Miller. He played in every game last year but only started two. He recorded 21 tackles and 3.5 sacks on the year but expect those number to increase with added playing time.
Now, where do I start with special teams? Let's look at the positives coming into this year. Well there's, then there's, remember when, wait a minute, are there any positives? The Mountaineers lost all-everything kicker Pat McAfee who was 36/36 on extra points, 17/20 on field goals including two from 50+, and also averaged 44.71 yards per punt. WVU ranked 118th out of 120 teams in kickoff return coverage, and they did not have one punt return or kickoff return for a touchdown. This year Tyler Bitancurt will man the kicking, who is a freshman by the way, and Scott Kozlowski will be in charge of punting. May I mention he has not punted at all since McAfee has been in Morgantown. There is a positive though and he goes by the name of Tavon Austin. I do not believe he will start out returning kicks and punts, but I believe as the season goes on he will work himself into that starting spot. If you have not heard of Tavon, I highly suggest you watch his youtube clips.
West Virginia has somewhat of a tough schedule this year. The Mountaineers open up with Liberty in week one then the following week they host ECU. West Virginia is looking for revenge following the 24-3 pounding they received last year in Greenville. On September 19th the Mountaineers have to go into SEC country. WVU faces off against Auburn where they will face the most hostile environment they will see all year. They welcome in Colorado for a Thurday nighter in which they look to redeem themselves after last year's overtime loss in Boulder. WVU then travels to Syracuse to play in the dome on October 10th, and let's all hope WVU plays better against Syracuse than they did last season. The Friends of Coal Bowl is the following week when Marshall comes into town. They say it's a rivalry, but it's not a rivalry while one team continues to pound the other year in and year out. WVU will get into the meat and potatoes of the Big East schedule finishing off the year against six straight conference opponents. They host UCONN on October 24th then travel to South Florida for a Friday night contest, which could rank up there with Auburn for most hostile crowd. It's back home for the Mountaineers when they get set to face the Cardinals of Louisville but don't get too comfortable because less than a week later WVU goes to Cincinnati, which could decide the Big East Champion. It is Backyard Brawl time November 27th, and you can bet the Mountaineers are not looking to go down to the Pitt Panthers for the third consecutive year. They finish off the season at Rutgers on December 5th, which could also decide the champion of the Big East.
There will be a lot of tough games this year but there is a lot to be excited about in Morgantown. Look for the Mountanieers to make a splash in the Big East, even without Pat White, because these Mountaineers will not go down without a fight.