2010 record: 9-4, 5-2 (T-1st, Big East)
2010 bowl: 23-7 loss to North Carolina State in the Champs Sports Bowl
2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Coach: Dana Holgorsen, first year
Offensive coordinator: Holgorsen
2010 offensive rankings: 78th, scoring offense (25.2 ppg); 67th, total offense (372.7 ypg); 50th, rushing offense (159.7 ypg); 67th, passing offense (213 ypg)
Defensive coordinator: Jeff Casteel, 11th year
2010 defensive rankings: third, scoring defense (13.5 ppg); third, total defense (261.1 ypg); second, rushing defense (86.5 ypg); 11th, passing defense (174.6 ypg)
Returning offensive starters: 7
Returning defensive starters: 4
Location: Morgantown, W.Va.
Stadium: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium (FieldTurf; 60,000)
Last league title: 2010
2011 schedule: [view]
2011 roster: [view]
2010 statistics: [view]
Snapshot: With Bill Stewart in place, and all of the accompanying head coach-in-waiting uncertainty hovering over the program, this team likely wouldn’t have sniffed my Top 25. With the lame duck put out of his misery, and Dana Holgorsen in charge of the operation from Day 1, it just feels like there’s something very special about to happen in Morgantown. Oh, and the fact that the Big East is, um, not so good doesn’t hurt either.
Be that as it may, we’re fairly comfortable making the following prediction: the Mountaineers will not average just over 25 points per game or finish in the bottom half of the total yards category this year. It simply won’t happen, in large part because Holgorsen would rather wear a suit and tie than not reach the end zone multiple times per game, and in no small part to a very talented triggerman to run the offense, who we will get to below. On defense, WVU has finished outside the top ten just once in the last four years, but defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will have the task of replacing seven starters, including three in the secondary. The good news for Holgorsen is what is arguably WVU’s toughest conference test of the year — outside of the annual Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh, at home this year — could be the season-ending contest at South Florida, which would/could give the defense plenty of time to replace all of the pieces missing from last year’s stifling and nationally-ranked unit.
I just get the feeling that, given the conference circumstances, I’m vastly underrating where this team could/should be. Take heart, though Mountaineer fans; I wrote the same thing about Auburn this time last year, and look where they ended up.
Make-or-break game: Nov. 12 at Cincinnati
Coming into this game, it’s not even remotely out of the realm of possibility that the Mountaineers could be sporting an 8-1 mark — with the lone blemish being a home loss to LSU — and a very high ranking in the polls. On paper, the game with the Bearcats could very well be a “W” written in semi-permanent marker. With Pitt and USF looming after a bye, and with this being on the road, this contest has look-ahead game written all over it.
Heisman hopeful: Quarterback Geno Smith
Is there a happier man in the state of West Virginia over the arrival of Holgorsen than Smith? There’s little doubt that Smith’s number will take an appreciable uptick thanks to the new offense being installed, with his decision-making — just one interception for every 53 attempts — the icing on top of what should be a very productive offensive cake. And, speaking of pastry toppings, three of Smith’s top four targets in 2010 return for another run — or pass, as the case may be — in 2011. Factor the increased production in with what looks to be a very good season win-wise, and Smith could very well be in the top five of most if not all of the preseason and early-season Heisman watch lists.
Postseason projection: Orange Bowl