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West Virginia Mountaineers spring wrap

2010 overall record: 9-4

2010 conference record: 5-2, tied for first in Big East

Returning starters:

Offense: 8. Defense: 4. Punter/kicker: 1.

Top returners:

QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, DE Bruce Irvin, DE Julian Miller, CB Keith Tandy, OT Don Barclay, WR Brad Starks, S Terence Garvin

Key losses:

RB Noel Devine, WR Jock Sanders, CB Brandon Hogan, DL Chris Neild, S Robert Sands, DL Scooter Berry, S Sidney Glover, LB J.T. Thomas

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Noel Devine (936 yards)

Passing: Geno Smith* (2,763 yards)

Receiving: Tavon Austin* (787 yards)

Tackles: Terence Garvin* (76 tackles)

Sacks: Bruce Irvin* (14 sacks)

Interceptions: Keith Tandy* (6 interceptions)

Spring answers

1. Offensive firepower: Dana Holgorsen's arrival had an immediate effect on the Mountaineers' offense, as witnessed by the 800-plus yards and 87 points put up in the spring game. The offense wasn't quite that crisp the entire spring, but it's clear that West Virginia will be hard to stop in 2011. Quarterback Geno Smith showed no ill effects from his offseason foot surgery, and even without injured players like Shawne Alston, Brad Starks and Ryan Clarke, the offense found ways to move the ball in Holgorsen's schemes this spring.

2. Bruce Almighty: Of course, the offense was helped by the fact that the defense couldn't hit the quarterback. If it could, Bruce Irvin might have injured every signal-caller on the roster. Coming off a 14-sack season, Irvin spent more time in the backfield than most Mountaineer ball carriers this spring. He had an almost unfair advantage since both West Virginia starting tackles were out with injuries. But Irvin also showed he's ready to take on an every-down role this season, and that he's still one of the most fearsome pass-rushers in the country.

3. Urban renewal: Tight end Tyler Urban wondered what his role in the offense would be when Holgorsen brought his spread to town. Urban moved to the slot receiver position and shined there in the spring. He's a matchup nightmare for linebackers at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. The only note of caution: Urban has been hyped in the spring before and has usually become an afterthought by the fall. He and the Mountaineers hope that is different this year.

Fall questions

1. Replacing Neild: Finding someone to fill in for noseguard Chris Neild was one of the toughest jobs facing defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel this spring. Jorge Wright stepped forward and appeared to earn the starting job, but he was arrested on gun and marijuana charges just before the spring game. He has been suspended indefinitely, and though Bill Stewart has shown he will give guys second chances, no one really knows for sure when Wright will be back. That leaves the noseguard position in flux this summer, with Josh Taylor and incoming junior-college transfer Shaq Rowell the best available options.

2. The offensive line: Holgorsen may have one of the brightest offensive minds in the country, but it's hard to move the ball without a good offensive line no matter how smart you are. The Mountaineers didn't have either starting tackle this spring, and starting guard Josh Jenkins hurt his knee in the spring game and could miss significant time if it does not heal this summer. The O-line hasn't been dominant since the Rich Rodriguez era, and depth is lacking. West Virginia needs things to come together there by the fall to reach its full potential.

3. The kicking game: Veteran place-kicker Tyler Bitancurt had all kinds of problems this spring, missing field goal tries and having some blocked. While it's too early to panic over kicking, Bitancurt needs to figure out what's wrong or he'll be out of a job. One solution is to just score more touchdowns, but odds are at least one big game in 2011 will come down to a field goal. The Mountaineers also want to get more explosive in the kick-return game after not doing much there last year.