West Virginia enters its third season in the Big 12 still trying to meet the expectations it set when the Mountaineers joined the conference.
After going 7-6 in 2012, West Virginia went 4-8 last year, the Mountaineers’ first losing record since their 3-8 season in 2001.
“We knew going into Big 12 play several years ago that you better have depth and depth that can compete at a high level,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “But going into Year 3, I think we’ve never been more excited about going into a season as we are right now.”
The Mountaineers had their moments in 2013, playing Oklahoma close and taking Texas to overtime, but they also lost to Kansas, were shut out against Maryland and gave up 73 points to Baylor.
“You better have some big guys up front that can stop the run,” Holgorsen said. “In addition to that, you better be able to drop in coverage. The secondary is probably the most important position on the defense in today’s game.”
The Mountaineers look to improve on both sides of the ball after finishing last season 80th nationally in points scored (26.3) and 100th in points allowed (33.3). They open Aug. 30 against Alabama at the Georgia Dome.
“We’ve had a chip on our shoulder this off-season after our finish last year and starting with Alabama, it puts a big wake-up call in our face,” junior punter Nick O’Toole said.
On offense, three seniors fill the depth chart at quarterback with Clint Trickett projected to start.
After transferring from Florida State last year, Trickett played in eight games, throwing for 1,605 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“Clint will be able to take it to another level. He understands what it takes to be successful,” Holgorsen said. “He needs to stay healthy. I think that’s obviously the biggest thing.”
WVU also has depth in the running game despite losing Charles Sims, who finished third in the Big 12 in rushing.
Senior Dreamius Smith is the preseason starter, but Holgorsen has three or four players who could play.
Smith rushed for 494 yards in 2013. Juniors Andrew Buie (851 yards) and Dustin Garrison (742) led the team in 2012 and 2011.
“Charles was a great player for us, but we’ve got some other guys that have started some games,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can do different things.”
Despite the high number in points allowed, the defense ranked fourth nationally in fumbles recovered and 19th in takeaways.
Junior safety Karl Joseph returns after leading the conference with four fumbles recovered, second in the nation. Junior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski returns as the team’s leading tackler while sophomore corner Daryl Worley also returns after a successful freshman campaign.
“There’s a lot of chemistry going on now that we all had a year playing together,” Worley said. “After a positive spring, we’re just trying to make it work together and jell as one.”
Said Holgorsen: “Our team understands we have one of the toughest schedules in the country; they understand who we open up with. How they’ve attacked it, how they’ve embraced the process of the off-season ... I’m proud how they’ve done that.”
Coach: Dana Holgorsen (fourth season, 21-17)
2013 Record: 4-8
Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Alabama (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
• West Virginia is 24-23-1 vs. SEC teams but this will be its first game against Alabama.
• Seven players from Texas, including senior quarterback Paul Millard (Flower Mound), sophomore quarterback Skylar Howard (Fort Worth Brewer) and sophomore kicker Josh Lambert (Garland).
• The Mountaineers start the Big 12 against Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Tech. They were winless against them last season.
• WVU is 26-22-2 against Maryland. The Mountaineers had won seven straight before last season’s loss.
Big 12 countdown
Wednesday: Kansas State
Thursday: Texas Tech
Today: West Virginia
Sunday: Iowa State
Tuesday: Oklahoma State