Five questions as the West Virginia Mountaineers prepare for their 119th season of football.
5. Will defensive end Bruce Irvin and cornerback Keith Tandy live up to their preseason hype? If it's possible.
Irvin is a junior college All-American who arrived at WVU last season predicting he'd have 15 sacks in his first year. He was close, as he wound up with 14, tops in the Big East and second nationally. But he played mostly in obvious passing situations and his sole reason for being in the game was to pin his ears back and get to the quarterback. It remains to be seen whether he can match that sack production as a full-time starter with responsibilities in the run game as well.
Tandy, meanwhile, led the league with six interceptions, which also tied him for 10th nationally. That's all well and good - there's nothing wrong with promoting the league's returning interceptions leader. But a quick review of the tape - wait, do they still use tape? - shows that Tandy probably led the Big East in little more than being at the right place at the right time (the little known BATRPATRT), as nearly all of his interceptions came on deflected passes. Still, his reputation might have been built strong enough that teams will just try to avoid him and take their chances with someone else.
4. Will that many true freshmen really play? Just like anything else, it's not a secret new coaches like to see what the guys they brought in can do. But generally when true freshmen are playing, they're either freakishly talented or there's a serious lack of depth in places.
First-year coach Dana Holgorsen had this to say on the topic last week: "I'd be surprised if we didn't play about 12 true freshmen this year. We brought in 16 this year, three of which are offensive linemen, which I doubt will play. That puts you down to about 13, which all 13 might play."
Just six true freshman played last year. If this comes to fruition, the 2014 senior class could be huge.
3. What kind of numbers will quarterback Geno Smith put up? Two of the last three quarterbacks to lead the nation in total offense worked in Holgorsen's offense (though it was the same guy, Houston's Case Keenum). The one that didn't was Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden (342 of 511 for 4,277 yards, 34 touchdowns 13 interceptions). All he did was earn first team All-Big 12 honors and become a finalist for the Manning Award. That's not bad for a 27-year-old who hadn't played much football in eight years after playing minor-league baseball from 2002-2006.
As a sophomore working in an offense that wasn't necessarily built for explosion, Smith still managed one of the finest seasons for a quarterback in the history of the school.
Smith was 241 of 372 for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns. His 2,980 yards of total offense was No. 4 on the WVU's single season list.
2. Will Paden City's Jeff Casteel be able to match last season's production, or at least some close facsimile? That would be something. The Mountaineers ranked third in scoring defense, second in rushing defense, second in sacks, 11th in pass defense, second in third-down defense, second in first-down defense, and tied for 26th in tackles for loss last season. And, four players were selected in the NFL Draft from the defense.
Holgorsen might have been far away, but he noticed all of Casteel's defenses have been pretty good through the years, which is why he made zero changes to the staff on that side of the ball and told the guys to do what they do. They'll need a few surprises, and maybe a little more help from the offense, but it's still a defense that will keep the Mountaineers in games.
1. Will Holgorsen go down as a trivia answer as the last guy to be named a ''coach in waiting'' in college football? You talk about a bad idea in sports, this ranks right up there with 70-year-old, out-of-shape baseball managers still wearing a uniform. While this ultimately will have nothing to do with the Mountaineers season, it dominated the offseason, all the way up to the point where it fell flat on its face. It's just a bad idea. Like anyone else who has pride in their job, no football coach wants to sit around and train the guy who is about to take his place. Think of your job, then add a few more zeroes on the end of your paycheck and ask yourself how you'd feel? Examples of this working are few and far between.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com