Read anything about West Virginia this offseason and the names Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will come up pretty quickly. The problem: All three of those guys will be in the NFL next fall.
The expectation is a natural dropoff.
Colleague KC Joyner at ESPN Insider isn't so sure. Despite losing all of that talent, he says West Virginia's offense can still remain elite.
Dana Holgorsen noted earlier this offseason that his offensive line basically just returned a couple guys at offensive tackle, but the offense could remain one of the nation's best for a couple reasons: One, strong prospects at quarterback. Clint Trickett and former blue-chip recruit Ford Childress are short on experience but long on potential. Holgorsen's already proven twice that he can produce top-tier offenses in challenging circumstances.
Joyner went back all the way to 2008 and noted that Houston's offense was one of the nation's best despite losing four of its top five pass-catchers the previous season. Oklahoma State in 2010 also lost talents like Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant but found new life with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon.
I don't necessarily agree that this year will see a similar result for two reasons: One, Conference USA defenses that Houston faced are not on par with what West Virginia will face this year. That's been an offensive league for a long time now. The offenses were ahead of the game back when Holgorsen was there and they still are.
Two, Oklahoma State's kind of a special case. Would Weeden and Blackmon's numbers have been anything close to what they were without Holgorsen? No way. That said, they were both special talents that came out of nowhere, exceeding expectations and becoming legends at OSU. Maybe Childress or Trickett and receivers like Jordan Thompson or Kevin White can do that at WVU, but guys like Weeden and Blackmon don't come around every day. The odds are against that happening again this year, even if the possibility looms.
I agree with Joyner that the Big 12 lacks so much experience at QB that WVU won't be far behind trying to replace Smith, but it's hard for me to really believe at the end of the season that WVU will have a case as the Big 12's best offense.
A very good offense? Yes. I buy that. I'd be surprised if WVU finished outside the national top 20 this year in total offense. Last year, though, that was only good for sixth in the Big 12.