West Virginia opened camp on Sunday and will continue through the next six weeks. Here's what to expect.
Schedule: Sunday marked the first of West Virginia's 15 NCAA-allowed practices, leading up to the spring game April 21. The Mountaineers are hoping for 30,000 at the Blue-Gold Game, which would far outpace most of the Big 12. Practices before the spring game are closed to fans and media.
What's new: Like TCU, it's the task ahead. One could argue that the task ahead of WVU isn't quite as difficult. The Mountaineers join the Big 12 next fall after two decades in the Big East. West Virginia won the league six times since 2003 and was 3-0 in BCS bowl appearances, including a dominant victory over Oklahoma. The Big East, however, has struggled to keep teams in the top 25 throughout the past few seasons. The Big 12 should open 2012 with six teams in the top 25, and maybe six in the top 20.
New faces: You'll find a few familiar ones on WVU's staff, even if you haven't followed much outside the Big 12 lately. Second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen won 10 games (including a 70-33 Orange Bowl rout of Clemson) in his first year as a head coach after leaving his post as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator after just one season. He was also on Mike Leach's staff at Texas Tech from 2000-2007 before jumping to Houston. As for this year, longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is gone and will be replaced by co-coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest, who was at Oklahoma State for 11 seasons.
Question mark: Can WVU adjust to a new defensive scheme? WVU has been known for its 3-3-5 stack defense as its profile has risen over the past decade, but Casteel is taking it with him to Arizona. Instead, Patterson and DeForest will install a more traditional 3-4. Big 12 teams have been all over the map in terms of success with that formation, but look for lots of speed at the four linebacker spots. Can WVU master the scheme well enough by fall?
On the mend: The biggest name sitting out the spring is running back Dustin Garrison, who took over the starting job as a freshman and rushed for 742 yards to lead the team. He tore his ACL in Orange Bowl practice, though, and will be out until the fall. Look for senior Shawne Alston (12 touchdowns in 2011) and Andrew Buie to handle most of the carries this spring.
Big shoes to fill: The Mountaineers' entire defense, basically. In addition the new scheme on defense, WVU is replacing five top playmakers from its front seven, including leading tackler Najee Goode (87 stops) and sack masters Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, who combined for 14 in 2011. Defensive backs Keith Tandy and Eain Smith are gone, too. WVU's depth chart with so much turnover and in a new scheme looks pretty jumbled, but will need some clarity this spring.
All eyes on: Geno Smith and the WVU offense. Is it truly good enough to produce week to week and win big in the Big 12? Smith is a dark-horse Heisman contender, but he's still got a lot to prove as the Mountaineers get used to their new digs. I'm betting yes, the WVU offense will be able to hang, but there's no guarantee until we see this fall. Year 2 in Holgorsen's system should be a big one for Smith and his top two targets, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, who both topped 1,185 yards receiving and combined for 20 touchdown catches in 2011. Left tackle Don Barclay and right guard Tyler Rader are the only starters not returning for 2012, and the expectations for this offense are enormous.