Tide schedule preview: West Virginia

Editor's note: We're taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

Alabama vs. West Virginia, Aug. 30 in Atlanta, 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)

The rundown

2013 overall record: 4-8

2013 Big 12 record: 2-7, eighth in the Big 12

Record all time against Alabama: N/A

Last meeting: N/A

Starters returning

Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

WR Mario Alford, CB Travis Bell, S Karl Joseph, RB Wendell Smallwood, QB Clint Trickett, CB Daryl Worley

Key losses

WR Ronald Carswell, S Darwin Cook, C Pat Eger, RT Curt Feigt, RB Charles Sims

2013 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Sims (1,095 yards)

Passing: Trickett* (1,605 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT)

Receiving: Daikiel Shorts (495 yards)

Tackles: Nick Kwiatkoski* (86)

Sacks: Will Clarke (6)

Interceptions: Cook (4)

What they're saying

"I'm excited to play against Alabama. That'll be fun, especially for a running back. I just can't wait to go against one of the top defenses in college football. It'll be exciting to just go out there and play our ass off.” -- Mountaineers running back Dustin Garrison, to reporters this spring.

Three things to watch

1. Quarterback battle: Trickett was listed as the Mountaineers' starting quarterback in the post-spring depth chart. (Alabama fans, don’t be jealous of such things.) But Trickett, who some will remember from his time at Florida State, has Paul Millard and transfer Skyler Howard nipping at his heels. Though he’ll likely start under center for West Virginia in Atlanta, Alabama’s defense should be prepared for all options, notably Howard, who can extend plays and scramble for yards, as evidenced by his 343 yards and five touchdowns rushing in junior college last season.

2. New-look defense: High-scoring shootouts have been the M.O. for West Virginia in years past. But after finishing next to last in the league in scoring defense (33.3 points per game), coordinator Keith Patterson left for Arizona State. In response, Dana Holgorsen lifted safeties coach Tony Gibson into the vacant position and brought on former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. And judging by the Mountaineers’ spring, their effect has been noticeable. Worley has grabbed headlines with his play and the secondary as a whole has showed promise. But the real test will come to the front seven in Atlanta. Three of four starters return at linebacker, but only one starter returns on the defensive line, which doesn’t bode well against a downhill running team like the Tide.

3. Ground game: West Virginia’s running game could be among the deepest and most versatile in the Big 12 next season. Losing Sims, an All-Big 12 back, was indeed a setback, but considering the depth at the position, it shouldn’t be a problem. The team’s post-spring depth chart is a testament to that, listing five players at running back as opposed to the usual two at every other position. Former No. 1 junior college running back Dreamius Smith is the favorite to start. He’s joined in the backfield by Smallwood, who was a steady presence as a freshman last season; Rushel Shell, a former blue-chip recruit who transferred from Pittsburgh; Garrison, who was the team’s leading rusher in 2011; and Andrew Buie, who led the team in rushing in 2012 but spent last season away from the team.