Big 12 preview: With dynamic QB, West Virginia fits into pass-happy league

Posted Monday, Aug. 27, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Three storylines

1. What challenges will the Mountaineers have on defense? They will have to replace the pass-rushing production of Najee Goode, Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin (combined for 19.5 sacks) and half of their secondary after losing Eain Smith and Keith Tandy.

2. How will the Mountaineers' offense translate to the Big 12? West Virginia's high-tempo spread offense should fit in well among other Big 12 teams. The team's 469.5 yards per game would have ranked fifth in the conference last season.

3. Where does West Virginia have an advantage over other Big 12 teams? The passing game. QB Geno Smith leads an aerial attack that put up 4,509 yards last season. The Mountaineers also return their top two receivers from last year: Tavon Austin (101 catches, 1,186 yards, eight touchdowns) and Stedman Bailey (72 catches, 1,279 yards, 12 touchdowns).

Schedule

Date

Opponent

Sept. 1

vs. Marshall

Sept. 15

vs. James Madison

Sept. 22

vs. Maryland

Sept. 29

vs. Baylor

Oct. 6

at Texas

Oct. 13

at Texas Tech

Oct. 20

vs. Kansas State

Nov. 3

vs. TCU

Nov. 10

at Oklahoma State

Nov. 17

Oklahoma

Nov. 23

at Iowa State

Dec. 01

Kansas

The Star-Telegram is spotlighting the Big 12 teams according to their preseason ranking.

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Having a top-notch quarterback and an explosive, high-scoring offense often leads to success in the Big 12, especially in recent years.

And if that pattern holds true in 2012, then Geno Smith and West Virginia should find the transition to their new conference rewarding.

Smith, tabbed as the conference's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, is coming off an electric season in which he led the Mountaineers to a 10-3 record, including a 70-33 thumping of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions in the team's season finale, capping his All-Big East junior campaign.

Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said even though Smith is likely to rack up impressive stats -- he threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2011 -- he is likely to be remembered for what his team was able to accomplish.

"He's progressed and he's got a chance to be pretty good," Holgorsen said. "He stacks up with a lot of other guys I've had in the past. He's going to be remembered for how many games he can win, and Geno's got the ability to make everybody else around him better."

In addition to his preseason Big 12 accolades, Smith has garnered national attention as he was selected to the Walter Camp Award and Maxwell Award watch lists.

Both prizes are given annually to the top player in college football. However, Smith said he hasn't let any of the hype impact his psyche.

"I haven't taken any thought into it," Smith said. "I don't let it affect me in any way. I'm not going to walk around here and boast as if it's some major accomplishment. The only thing that I'm worried about is winning games."

The Mountaineers racked up 469.5 yards and 37.6 points per game last season.

But Smith said duplicating that kind of offensive success this year will be a challenge in the new league.

"The one noticeable is that there's a lot of speed on the field, for obvious reasons," he said. "You've got linebackers who run 4.3s who could possibly be safeties, D-linemen who could possibly be linebackers, and that's for reasons that we all understand."

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