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West Virginia Needs Fast Start With Tough Opener
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent

2013 record: 4-8 overall, 2-7 in Big 12.

Returning starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense.

Top players returning: Senior QB Clint Trickett, senior QB Paul Millard, senior RB Dreamius Smith, junior RB Dustin Garrison, sophomore RB Wendell Smallwood, senior WR Mario Alford, senior WR Kevin White, sophomore WR Daikiel Shorts, junior LB Isaiah Bruce, junior LB Nick Kwiatkoski, junior DB Karl Joseph, junior DB K.J. Dillon, sophomore DB Daryl Worley.

Key players to replace: RB Charles Sims, DB Darwin Cook, DL Will Clarke, DL Shaq Rowell.

Spring review
What might be considered a pivotal season for West Virginia and coach Dana Holgorsen starts with a significant season opener.

The Mountaineers will take on Alabama in the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Game on Aug. 30 in Atlanta. Starting the season with a high-profile opponent on national television has added a sense of urgency.

"Having Alabama as that first game pushed us a lot harder. It's a good reminder of why we play the game," wide receiver Kevin White said. "If you can't get excited for that game, you might as well not play football."

"It drives our guys. We thrive on being underdogs in those situations, we always have. That is what makes us West Virginia. When nobody gives you a chance, you have to standup to the competition," said running backs coach JaJuan Seider. "It's a Big 12-SEC matchup, this is a reason why you come to West Virginia."

As a way to add some excitement to what can be mundane spring workouts, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen opened four practices to the publics and the Mountaineers also held scrimmages "on the road" in Wheeling and Charleston.

After winning their first five games in 2012, their first season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers have gone 6-16. In addition to opening against the Crimson Tide, West Virginia could face two other opponents that figure to start the season in the top 10 – Oklahoma and Baylor.

Quick slants
*Tony Gibson takes over as defensive coordinator, a position he has never held at the FBS level. West Virginia's defense has ranked 101st in the nation in defense last season and 108th in 2012. The Mountaineers also added Tom Bradley to the staff. He has 33 years of experience as an assistant coach at Penn State. Bradley will be coaching WVU's defensive linemen. The defense has seven starters returning but needs to replace some key players on the line.

*Developing depth on the offensive line is a work in progress. West Virginia has two outstanding guards in seniors Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski; they've combined to make 38 starts. The other projected starters – sophomores Adam Pankey and Tyler Orlosky and junior Marquis Lucas – have seven combined starts in their careers. Spain and Glowinski are two of three seniors in the top 10 linemen on the depth chart.

*Cullen Christian was a four-star high school recruit as a defensive back. He started his career at Michigan and then transferred to Pittsburgh. He has now transferred to West Virginia and because he has earned his degree he will be immediately eligible. Christian was recruited to Michigan by current Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

Coach Dana Holgorsen on …
The new 3-man "odd" defensive scheme:
It's what I've wanted to do since I've been here. The reason I run an odd defense is because it can be very multiple. I have to look at what gives us problems, because a lot of teams in the Big 12 have similar defenses. The thing that gives us the most trouble is an odd defense, so that's what we're going to do. It will give us a bunch of different looks."

Allowing the quarterbacks to be "live" in practices:
"It was fun watching those guys get hit. They weren't making the progress we wanted, and about six practices ago, we let them get hit and the sense of urgency picked up."

The five-man quarterback competition:
"We're going to have to narrow it down. We are going to figure out who that guy is, and we're going to have to give him all the reps."

2014 Schedule
Aug. 30 Alabama (Atlanta, Ga.)
Sept. 6 Towson
Sept. 13 at Maryland
Sept. 20 at Oklahoma*
Oct. 4 Kansas*
Oct. 11 at Texas Tech*
Oct. 18 Baylor*
Oct. 25 at Oklahoma State*
Nov. 1 TCU*
Nov. 8 at Texas*
Nov. 20 Kansas State*
Nov. 29 at Iowa State*
*- Big 12 Conference game.
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