Time to wrap up our series breaking down each team's best and worst positions entering the 2012 season. West Virginia will bring up the rear.
More spring superlatives:
Strongest position: Wide receiver
The Big 12 has exactly zero returning 1,000-yard receivers in 2012, thanks to Texas A&M's SEC defection. All four 1,000 receivers from 2011 will be in the NFL (Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles, Kendall Wright) or the SEC (Ryan Swope).
West Virginia, though, returns two. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin will start the season as the Big 12's top two receivers, and there's a pretty good chance they'll end the season in the same place. Quarterback Geno Smith is arguably the Big 12's best, and the offense returns eight starters entering Year 2 of Dana Holgorsen's high-powered attack. That's a good sign for Bailey and Austin, a pair of dynamic playmakers. WVU's entire offense is based around getting them the ball, and as long as they stay healthy, both are more than capable of getting open.
Weakest position: Pass-rushers
West Virginia loved watching feel-good story Bruce Irvin hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft, but it also brings the focus on a stark realization for the Mountaineers: They need a lot of help with the pass-rush. Irvin is gone, but so is fellow defensive end Julian Miller and linebacker Najee Goode. Those were the team's three leading sackers, and leave behind 19 sacks in 2011 that the Mountaineers have to replace in 2012.
They'll do it in a new league with faster offenses and smarter, better quarterbacks. They'll also be breaking in a brand-new scheme. The 3-4 is a big departure from the 3-3-5 that much of the defensive recruits signed up to play when they came to West Virginia. That's an adjustment that won't be quick, but new coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson worked all spring on installing the system and making sure players can play fast with minimal thinking. Expect a few growing pains early. Everything looks better on defense when you have a disruptive pass-rush, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that element might not be there for WVU in the immediate future.