Camp is open up in Morgantown. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.
Next up: West Virginia.
Media's predicted finish: Second (received seven first-place votes).
Biggest storyline: The Big 12 offered West Virginia a life raft out of the crumbling Big East, which lost all but two founding members by the time the Mountaineers left for greener pastures down South. Now, it's time to answer the question of whether or not a Big East power could win big in a much tougher conference. The Mountaineers won the league or a share of it six times since 2003, including three BCS bowl wins in three trips. WVU knocked off Oklahoma in a memorable Fiesta Bowl route, but that was one game. Time to put up or shut up every single week in big games in a loaded Big 12 for 2012.
Biggest question mark: Pass rush. West Virginia lost pretty much everybody that produced their pass rush from last season, and now, they're moving to a brand-new system, a 3-4 under Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be tough to replace, and now, in the Big 12, they're going to play much faster, more skilled offenses with quarterbacks who are taught to get the ball out of their hands and into the hands of guys who can make plays in the open field.
Who needs to step up: The passing game. These guys have gotten all the press this offseason, and simply put, must be great. The defense may demand it. You can win and win big in this league with a defense that's just OK, and West Virginia has the firepower to do it. Think Baylor in 2011, but with upgrades on defense. If West Virginia's going to be a factor in the Big 12 title race, Geno Smith has to validate his status as the league's preseason Offensive Player of the Year, helping Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin both log one more 1,000-yard season apiece. The trio must, above all, be consistent. One bad day and there's a long list of teams in the Big 12 that can beat WVU.
Fun fact: The Big 12 is just 1-4 against West Virginia in bowl games. Maybe the Mountaineers can petition to have every game this year played at a neutral site?
On the mend: Running back Shawne Alston held down the spot in spring camp, but sophomore Dustin Garrison is back after tearing his ACL in Orange Bowl practices. The shifty, 5-foot-8, 180-pounder averaged nearly 5.5 yards a carry last year, racking up 742 yards on just 136 carries, with six scores.
Breaking out: LB Terence Garvin. Garvin sat out the spring after undergoing knee surgery, but he'll take over the Star linebacker position that Shaun Lewis took control of to win Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010 at Oklahoma State. DeForest brought the position over from Stillwater, and Garvin's a speedy converted safety who could make tons of plays in the scheme. He proved himself as a playmaker in the Big East, but across the Big 12, he's basically an unknown. That may change quick this fall.