By Wendell Barnhouse
2014 record: 7-6 overall, 5-5 in Big 12, lost to Texas A&M 45-37 in Liberty Bowl.
Returning starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense.
Top players returning: Junior QB Skyler Howard, junior RB Rushel Shell, junior RB Wendell Smallwood, junior WR Daikiel Shorts, senior WR Jordan Thompson, sophomore WR Shelton Gibson, senior LB K.J. Dillon, senior LB Nick Kwiatkoski, junior C Tyler Orlosky, senior OT Russell Haughton-James, senior LB K.J. Dillon, senior S Karl Joseph, junior CB Daryl Worley, senior CB Terrell Chestnut.
Key players to replace: WR Kevin White, WR Mario Alford, QB Clint Trickett, DE Shaq Riddick.
West Virginia faced the toughest schedule in school history last season. The end result was the Mountaineers' best finish thus far in the Big 12 and a post-season bowl trip. Coach Dana Holgorsen is optimistic because his program finally has the depth to compete going into Year Four in the Big 12.
"I think we have 68 scholarship guys on campus right now," he said. "Our numbers are good, and our roster is healthy. We have a lot of returning guys who are pretty fired up and ready to get on with 2015."
Either as a coordinator or a head coach, Holgorsen's teams have annually produced a 1,000-yard receiver. Last year, Kevin White finished with 1,147 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on his way to becoming the seventh player selected in the NFL Draft. Even with his departure, West Virginia has a number of receivers who appear capable of keeping the offense rolling.
The quarterback will apparently be junior Skyler Howard. He started the last two games last season, completing 56-of-110 passes for 829 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. He's also a running threat.
"(It's) not even close," Holgorsen said of Howard being the clear-cut starter. "I sure hope I am not jinxing him right now. His fundamentals are good. He's accurate and he's throwing the deep ball well. His communication is really good. His understanding of the offense continues to improve. His teammates believe in him. The coaches believe in him. He is doing well."
With Skyler Howard apparently set as the starting quarterback, redshirt freshman William Crest Jr. is looking for playing time. He took some snaps at quarterback in the spring game but also caught three passes for 31 yards and had 12 carries for 47 yards. "He's one of our better football players," Holgorsen said. "We're going to continue to … figure out what he does best, whether that's playing receiver, running back, quarterback, punt returner or kick returner."
One of the defensive starters West Virginia needs to replace is Shaq Riddick, who was the team's top pass rusher. Larry Jefferson, a junior-college transfer who enrolled in January, was a force in the spring game with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The offense needs to replace its top two receivers in Kevin White and Mario Alford. Junior Dakiel Shorts has 69 receptions for 841 yards and four touchdowns in his career. He has been moved to outside receiver and will need to prove he's a go-to receiver. Jordan Thompson has been impressive in the last two springs and is the team's top returning receiver.
Coach Dana Holgorsen on …
Replacing a first-round NFL Draft pick in wide receiver Kevin White:
"The same way we replaced Stedman Bailey. "You recruit, you get guys here, you rep the heck out of them and you see how good those guys can get. I don't think anyone would say Kevin White was going to be Kevin White two years ago. Kevin White as a senior was different than Kevin White as a junior. I like our receivers."
Running back Wendell Smallwood:
"He's probably our most dynamic offensive guy right now. He's had a great spring. He's dynamic in the backfield; we can line him up at receiver and he's our best receiver. You're taking a guy who … has the chance to be a great player now. He's got a chance to take that next step."
"It has a lot of experience. … Getting us in a place defensively is something that we've obviously focused on around here for three or four years. We've got great defensive continuity with our coaching staff. We have 15, 16 guys that have started games. We're developing a lot of depth on that side of the ball."
|Sept. 5||Georgia Southern|
|Oct. 3||at Oklahoma*|
|Oct. 10||Oklahoma State*|
|Oct. 17||at Baylor*|
|Oct. 29||at TCU*|
|Nov. 7||Texas Tech*|
|Nov. 21||at Kansas*|
|Nov. 28||Iowa State*|
|Dec. 5||at Kansas State*|