Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

2009 Record: 9-4 (5-2- 2nd in Big East)
2009 Bowl:Gator Bowl (lost to Florida State 33 to 21)
Final 2009 BCS Ranking: #16
Head Coach: Bill Stewart (19-8 at West Virginia, 27-33 Overall)
Non-Conference Schedule: Coastal Carolina (Sept 4), at Marshall (Sept 10), Maryland (Sept 18), at LSU (Sept 25), UNLV (Oct 9)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 26.2 points per game (6th in Big East)
Rushing Yards/Game: 186 (1st in Big East)
Passing Yards/Game: 191 (last in Big East)
Total Yards/Game: 377 (4th in Big East)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 21.7 points per game (4th in Big East)
Rushing Yards/Game: 126 (4th in Big East)
Passing Yards/Game: 209 (4th in Big East)
Total Yards/Game: 336 (4th in Big East)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.15 per game (6th in Big East)
Penalties: 44 yards per game (2nd in Big East)

Returning Starters
Offense: 9
Defense: 9
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Geno Smith, Soph (32 of 49, 309 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT)
Rushing: RB Noel Devine, Sr (1,465 yds, 112 ypg, 6 ypc, 13 TD)
Receiving: RB Jock Sanders, Sr (688 yds, 72 rec, 3 TD)
Tackles: LB Pat Lazear, Sr (78)
Sacks: DL Julian Miller, Jr (9)
Interceptions: DB Robert Sands, Jr (5)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Lindy's: #19
Mark Schlabach: Not Ranked
Rivals: Not Ranked
Scout: #21
Sports Illustrated: Not Ranked

According to Wikipedia West Virginia is the winningest Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team to have never won a national championship. We reached out to John Radcliff of the West Virginia blog Eers To You and he was kind enough to provide us with more insight into the upcoming 2010 West Virginia Mountaineers.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

The strengths as usual start with West Virginia's running game. Everyone knows Noel Devine. He needs 1800 yards to be the all-time leading rusher in WVU history. Joining Devine in the backfield is Ryan Clarke, a 230 lb fb/hb. Clarke emerged in 2009 as a go to short yardage back and exceeded all expectations as a rusher and lead blocker.The Mountaineers also return four of five starters from last year on the offensive line. The defensive line also returns all three starters from a year ago and should be a huge strength for West Virginia.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

I would say LSU, but the week before that we get our first BCS caliber team, Maryland at home September 18th. It's an old rivalry. The turtles haven't been all that good in the past few years, but they usually give West Virginia a good game. I would at least expect them to be better that the 2-10 record from a year ago.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

LSU! This is a road game, and although LSU hasn't been the monster they were two or three years ago, they are still a very impressive team. I worry about our young quarterback being put in a situation that he has to win the game. If that happens, it could get ugly real quick. It would also be a signature win for a team that hasn't had many big road wins since Stewart took over as coach.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

First, I would say nose guard Chris Neild. He's been a big contributor the last three years. You have to have someone that can suck up blocks at the NG position in the 3-3-5 defense. He doesn't get a lot of chances to shine because he is almost always being double teamed. But you see it right away when he isn't out there. LB J. T. Thomas is also someone to keep an eye on. He's a bit undersized at 225 lbs, but he reminds you of all the linebackers from Miami's golden age. He's got a nose for the ball and speed to burn. Ryan Clarke should also be mentioned again. He's a rare combination of size and speed that is as comfortable running the ball as he is blocking.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Everyone knows Noel Devine and he is the best running back on the team. But I would have to at least mention Jock Sanders. He is just an inch behind Devine as a running back, but he is a dominant slot receiver. He gives you versatility that you don't often have and he makes defenses account for him on every play.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

This is a tossup between Neild and Thomas. You need Neild in there sucking up blocks to keep the linebackers free. He makes everyone on the defense better with his play. Thomas is the linebacker that you can't run away from and you won't have much better luck running at. He's a strong blitzer and also has the ability to cover backs and tight ends.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Quarterback Geno Smith. For his sake and for the sake of the team he needs to come out and play like a senior. There's too much talent out there to accept marginal output from the quarterback position. Also, there's a lot of unproven talent behind him. Brandon Hogan needs to be better than last year at corner back. Not that he was bad last year. But WVU hasn't been solid in pass defense for a while. If they are going to contend for a Big East title, they have to improve in the secondary. And that starts with Hogan.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Like I said above, there's some talent coming in at quarterback in Barry Brunetti. I hate to put expectations like that on any freshman, but Brunetti already has some high expectations attached to his name. If things don't go well for Smith, Barry might get a shot to run the team.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Will Clarke made a big impression at defensive end this spring. It's a position that WVU is already strong at, but he's 6'6" and he could make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks just by putting his hands in the air.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Anything short of a Big East championship and a BCS bid will probably be a disappointment. The Mountaineers return more starters than any other team in the conference, 18. The coaching staff returns all but one coach. Bills Stewart said last year that he expects his team to play for a national title in the next two years. If it's going to happen, you should see it this year. Stewart is a good guy. His gaffs have been well publicized. But it's hard to root against him in a world of coaches like Saban, Meyer, Rodriguez, and so on. It would be nice if just once, the nice guy won. Best case, WVU goes 11-1. Worst case, 8-4.

Next Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers


Troy said...

I'll be at the LSU game. Should be a good one

J.Martin said...

I'm kinda surprised LSU took two big out of conference games this year. They could lose them both!

Anyway, I'd like to take this moment to restate my hatred of the 3-3-5 defense.

Troy said...

I'm not surprised, but I see them going 1-1. They'll lose a close one to UNC and win a close won vs. WVU.

Kevin said...

I'm a little surprised West Virginia isn't getting more pre-season love. I'm not saying that they should be pre-season Top 10 but they are returning 9 starters on offense and on defense. I think they should at least be a Top 25 team to start off the season if not Top 20.

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