Perhaps no team in the country faces the daunting task West Virginia does. The Mountaineers have to replace the school’s all-time leading passer and its two all-time leading receivers.
Together, quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey had a hand in nearly four-fifths of West Virginia’s all-purpose yards last season.
“I’ve been talking to our guys about this all the time,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “How are we going to score without three of the best players that ever played the game here?”
Holgorsen is banking that his Mountaineers can somehow do it with a collection of talented FBS and junior-college transfers. All told, West Virginia brought in four junior-college offensive skill players and two high-profile FBS transfers. All six could wind up with critical roles in the offense.
“We did a good job of getting guys who can make big plays,” said running back Andrew Buie, essentially West Virginia’s only returning skill player from last season. “I definitely think we can be explosive again.”
Trickett left Florida State after the spring to join West Virginia’s quarterback competition. He’s up against junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress for the starting job in a battle that’s yet to yield a frontrunner.
“Clint Trickett has a presence to him; every rep he takes he gets better and does some good things,” Holgorsen said. “They all make good decisions at times but because of inexperience, they make poor decisions that get them in trouble. The guy that reduces the poor decisions will be the guy that wins the job. I think they are all capable of being pretty good.”
While backing up EJ Manuel at Florida State, Trickett showed flashes of being pretty good. After Manuel got hurt during the 2011 season, Trickett came in and delivered a pair of sterling performances against top-notch competition. He nearly rallied the Seminoles to a win over Oklahoma. Then the following week, he threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout defeat at Clemson.
Trickett, whose father, Rick, is the Seminoles’ offensive line coach, elected to transfer to West Virginia after losing the battle for the starting job to freshman Jameis Winston this spring.
“All Dana said was he’s not promising me anything and that I’m going to get my chances,” said Trickett, who grew up in Morgantown while his dad was a West Virginia assistant. “That’s all I can ask for.”
The Mountaineers do have other options at quarterback. But outside their transfers, they don’t have many options at running back or receiver.
Buie, who rushed for 851 yards and seven touchdowns last season, figures to be the featured back. But he could have plenty of help from a pair of transfers.
Sims arrived in the summer after totaling 4,077 yards rushing and receiving for Houston in three seasons. His freshman season playing for Holgorsen, Sims was the Conference USA freshman of the year. Sims is eligible to play this season because he got his degree in Houston.
“We're extremely fortunate to have his services for one year,” Holgorsen said. “He's a great kid, a tremendous football player.
“I didn't promise him anything. He knows what I'm all about. He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about. And we need some playmakers on offense.”
Sims has been just that. After missing the 2010 season with an injury, Sims bounced back the following year to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors. Like Austin, Sims has the skill set to operate out of the backfield or line up in the slot.
“This is basically the same offense I’ve been running since my freshman year,” Sims said. “The terminology is all that’s different.”
The Mountaineers are also hoping for a boost from Dreamius Smith, who was the nation’s No. 1 junior-college running back. Smith averaged 8.2 yards a carry for Butler (Kan.) Community College before joining West Virginia in January.
“He's got great ball skills,” Smith's position coach, Jajuan Seider, said. “He can catch the ball. The way he looks – you don't even think he's running. He's one of the fastest guys on the team – next thing you know, he's going for 70 or 80 yards and our safety can't catch him. He's a really good player. I'm glad we've got him.”
The Mountaineers are glad they got White, too, who since the spring has been vying to be the team’s go-to receiver.
White might not be able to replicate the production of Austin or Bailey, but teamed with fellow junior-college receivers Mario Alford and Ronald Carswell, White might lead a deeper receiving corps with more viable options than last year’s group.
“This offense is definitely going to be more than just three guys,” White said. “We have all the pieces to the puzzle.
“We just have to put it together.”