West Virginia enters 2011 with high expectations, and a new coach that won’t be happy with another nine-win season (sorry Bill Stewart).
If Dana Holgorsen’s track record holds, junior quarterback Geno Smith should have a huge season and the Mountaineers should score tons of points.
The defense was one of the best in 2010, but Jeff Casteel is going to have to work some magic again as there are a lot of holes to fill. Casteel is going to count on pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin to be an every down defensive end this fall. Irvin seems to be up to the challenge.
One area no one can control is the 2011 schedule. WVU has the talent to run the table, but another nine-win season is also possible.
The Mountaineers’ strength of schedule is so-so. It’s helped by two strong non-conference games.
Let’s take a look at how WVU’s schedule stacks up based on the power of each opponent.
Norfolk State is WVU’s lone Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
The Spartans went 6-5 last season, including a pedestrian 4-4 record in the Mid-East Athletic Conference.
Norfolk returns senior quarterback Chris Walley, who completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,859 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
On defense, the Spartans are led by senior nose guard Josh Turner, a two-time All-MEAC selection.
Series record: First meeting
Dave Clawson is still working on rebuilding the Bowling Green program, but his third year should be stronger than last year’s 2-10 season.
The Falcons need the offensive line to play better if they want solid production from running back Jordan Hopgood. Matt Schliz returns at quarterback, but if he doesn’t produce Clawson will likely turn to Trent Hurley.
The defensive line, which is led by tackle Chris Jones and end Kevin Moore, is easily the strongest unit at Bowling Green.
Series record: WVU 2-0
Marshall was so close to pulling off the upset of the century (at least in Huntington) when WVU played at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
But the Mountaineers used two late drives to force overtime and WVU went on to win 24-21.
Doc Holliday, the former WVU assistant, wanted that game bad and he should have had it. He knows it will be about 1,000 times more difficult to pull off the feat at Mountaineer Field.
Holliday has a long-term plan for the Herd, and it began last year as he played 12 true freshmen and 16 redshirt freshmen.
Marshall should improve on its 5-7 season last year, but it won’t pick up a win in Morgantown.
Series record: WVU 10-0
Rutgers returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Chas Dodd and receiver Mohamed Sanu. However, the Scarlet Knights have Frank Cignetti as their new coordinator so it could take them a while to adjust.
By the time Rutgers plays WVU the offense should be clicking. However, so should WVU’s offense.
Rutgers lost in Morgantown last year 35-14, and basically WVU has owned the Knights.
Series record: WVU 32-4-2
The Huskies ended their six-game losing skid to WVU last year with an ugly 16-13 overtime win.
But that was against the Jeff Mullen offense.
UConn has a solid defense, but it’s hard to see where the points are going to come from.
With Paul Pasqualoni now on the sidelines, it will be interesting to see how the Huskies embrace (or don’t) their new coach.
Series record: WVU 6-1
Charlie Strong might have been too successful in his first season with the Cardinals, as Louisville finished 7-6 and reached the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Now he must turn to a number of younger players after graduating 25 seniors.
The defense should be a strength this season, but the corners and safeties could be a major weak spot.
Therefore WVU’s passing game should be able to attack the young defensive backfield.
Series record: WVU 10-2
Butch Jones’ first season at Cincinnati was a major disappointment.
But he still has Zach Collaros at quarterback, so the Bearcats could make a serious comeback this fall.
A drawback to that plan could be the lack of experience on the offensive line, and lack of depth on defense.
By the time Cincinnati faces WVU at Paul Brown Stadium the Bearcats will be out of the conference running, and the Mountaineers will be on the verge of being the BCS representative.
Series record: WVU 15-3-1
In just three seasons, Doug Marrone has undone everything Greg Robinson did to ruin Syracuse’s program.
Last year, the Orange shocked the Mountaineers in Morgantown and that was the beginning of the end of Bill Stewart.
Syracuse should be more explosive on offense, even with Delone Carter playing in the NFL this fall. Antwon Bailey should be a respectable replacement.
The Orange defense is also a bit sketchy and could keep them from being a serious Big East contender.
Series record: Syracuse 31-27
With new coaches at both programs, the Backyard Brawl is back and as heated as ever.
There’s a lot of bad blood between Pitt’s new coach Todd Graham and Holgorsen. Folks, it’s going to be dirty at Mountaineer Field.
Pitt still has Tino Sunseri at quarterback and he’s going to run Graham’s no-huddle, spread offense.
The Panthers should also be solid on defense with another outstanding line.
I can’t wait for this game.
Series record: Pitt 61-39-3
Maryland’s new coach Randy Edsall never had much success against WVU, until last year with Connecticut.
Edsall inherits a talented team, which is led by quarterback Danny O’Brien and linebacker Kenny Tate.
The Mountaineers held off Maryland 31-17 in Morgantown last year, but the game wasn’t really as close as the score.
The Terrapins have a balanced offensive game plan that includes using the tough Davin Meggett at running back.
Series record: WVU 24-21-2
The Bulls have enough talent to keep the favorite Mountaineers from winning the Big East, and the final regular-season match up could be a doozy in Florida.
South Florida will be led by its defense, which allowed just 20 points a game last year. The Bulls also come into 2011 with a ton of confidence following last year’s 31-26 win over Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Skip Holtz is building a winner, a more stable and consistent program than Jim Leavitt could.
Series record: Even 3-3
Right now, LSU is in a bit of turmoil, but Les Miles will turn it around.
The Tigers have a tough opener with No. 3 Oregon and a loss in that one could send LSU’s season into a death spiral.
Since LSU is loaded with some of the nation’s best talent, it’s going to be the toughest game on West Virginia’s schedule.
If you watched the Mountaineers play at LSU last year, you realize WVU could have won that game with a little more imagination on offense.
Say hello to Dana Holgorsen.
Series record: LSU 1-0