MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On this, the long-awaited dawn of fall practice at West Virginia, let’s set the line on some over/unders for the upcoming season:
Wins: More than this, and WVU goes bowling for the 12th consecutive year. Any less and we’re only shifting full attention to Bob Huggins’ team in December. Your take on this matter likely depends on whether you believe games at Maryland and Kansas are gimmies. If so, you probably feel comfortable that WVU beats Texas Tech and Iowa State at home and gets to six wins. If not, you’re taking the doomsayer approach and stockpiling canned goods in the basement.
Catches for WVU’s leading receiver: Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey each caught 114 balls last season while auditioning for the Rams, but this year’s receiving rotation is muddled. Kevin White looks like a beast on the outside, and either half of the Mario Alford-Jordan Thompson combo could benefit from a gazillion targets on the inside. How long before Shelton Gibson breaks out? Does Ivan McCartney write the strangest comeback story in program history? Does Connor Arlia evolve into a walk-on version of Wes Welker?
Ejections for targeting: Based on video scrutinized from last season, five hits by Mountaineers could have resulted in DQs. Maybe the offseason emphasis will change the way defenders make contact, but entering fall camp most Big 12 coaching staffs—including WVU’s—had yet to address the new guidelines with players.
Passing yards by WVU’s starting quarterback: Dana Holgorsen’s string of 11 straight years with a 4,000-yard passer includes NFL talents such as Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden, Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury. But it also includes B.J. Symons, Cody Hodges and a dude named Sonny Cumbie who narrowly won the job in 2004 at Texas Tech and promptly led the freaking nation in passing. Against the background of that unfathomable track record, does anyone doubt Holgorsen’s ability to squeeze a strong season out of the Trickett-Childress-Millard medalist? Obviously, a midseason QB switch or an untimely injury could impact this O/U. But Holgorsen tends to pick and stick with the right guy, and his quick-pitch passing attack aims to limit the number of hits quarterbacks absorb.
Points allowed per game: Last season, this mark would have placed West Virginia among the nation’s top 80 defenses. Not exactly stingy, but lightyears better than where the Mountaineers actually finished—ranked 114th at 38.08 points. Can Keith Patterson’s revamped schematics change the tone? Can a handful of junior college imports make the jump to Division I? Can the cornerbacks get a clue? If so, perhaps WVU can shave off more than a TD per game this season, particularly in light of seven Big 12 teams entering fall camp with quarterback conundrums.
Big 12 rank in net punting: West Virginia finished dead last in the conference a year ago when it netted only 33.8 per punt. Surely the powerful leg of 6-foot-5 Nick O’Toole can boost WVU a couple notches.
Cornerbacks to start a game: During the weekly switcheroo that was 2012, six cornerbacks rotated into the two spots—with results that ranged from shaky to shameful. While the cornerbacks yet again figure to be the weak link in the defense, WVU coaches hope a few players can at least develop the technique and confidence to avoid another who’s-got-next merry-go-round.
Recruits who fail to qualify: The three unknowns as of Wednesday night were four-star linebacker Darrien Howard of Dayton, Ohio; three-star safety Isaac McDonald of Hialeah, Fla.; and outside linebacker Brandon Golson of Georgia Military College. All three were viewed as essential defensive signees, with Golson anticipated to contribute immediately.
Fourth-down gambles by Holgorsen: If you thought WVU’s 34 fourth-down attempts last season seemed atypically aggressive, you’re right—only five teams in the nation had more. Big 12 champ K-State attempted only eight.