|David J. Phillip / Associated Press|
|Charles Sims -- a transfer from Houston -- immediately gives West Virginia an all-purpose threat.|
It seemed like a natural fit: put high-flying West Virginia in an offensively driven conference with a coach plenty familiar with the terrain and watch the Mountaineers cruise to a second-consecutive BCS bowl. And for the first five games of 2012, Dana Holgorsen's bunch were hitting on every beat, with quarterback Geno Smith (second-round selection by the New York Jets in the 2013 NFL Draft) at the front of the pack for the Heisman Trophy by compiling video-game statistics with wide receivers Tavon Austin (No. 8 overall selection by the St. Louis Rams in the 2013 draft) and Stedman Bailey (third-round selection by the Rams in the 2013 draft). Then the bottom fell out for West Virginia, which lost six of its final eight in brutal fashion.
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The Mountaineers will eventually reach the plug-and-play status of their Air Raid contemporaries, matching the program's draft trajectory under Rich Rodriguez where a handful of elite talents will rise, while the rest will be elevated by schematic wizardry.
Top senior prospects
RB Charles Sims: Sims played for three seasons at Houston, but graduated and became immediately eligible to play at another school. During his time with the Cougars, Sims was a true all-purpose threat, rushing for 2,370 yards and 19 touchdowns and catching 158 passes for 1,707 yards and eight touchdowns. Sims has the requisite size (6-foot-0, 213 pounds) and is more than capable of developing into a true three-down back in the NFL.
WR Ivan McCartney: McCartney left the team midway through the 2012 season only to return this spring. With experience in his favor (third on the team in 2011 with 49 receptions for 585 yards) and plenty of talent, he is certainly capable of emerging as the top option in a completely restructured passing game. But he will need to show big production and plenty of newfound maturity to sniff an NFL roster spot.
OL Pat Eger: Eger experienced an up-and-down junior season that echoed his team's travails, starting seven games before being demoted. With experience at right tackle and guard, Eger could be the ultimate utility lineman if his move to center works out.
OT Quinton Spain: Spain started every game at left tackle as a third-year sophomore and must be the anchor for the Mountaineers' offense. Spain has a prototypical NFL frame (6-5, 335) and can execute the necessary movement required for a bevy of screen passes. Must be more consistent, but Spain could develop into a premier blind-side protector.
S Karl Joseph: Joseph made multiple Freshman All-America teams in his first season, amassing 104 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions while starting all 13 games. He looked very adept at playing in space, but did flash some ability at the line of scrimmage. Joseph should be even better with a year of experience and time in the weight room, and will need to be a difference-maker for a team in transition.
LB Isaiah Bruce: Along with Joseph, Bruce emerged as a bright spot for a defense that was mostly awful. Too often he was the second or third defender at the ball finishing off tackles, so he must become more comfortable and instinctive. Bruce was the Florida state champion in the 300-meter hurdles in high school, so the tools are there.
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Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 21 vs. Maryland: Stefon Diggs was the lone bright spot for Maryland and it showed when the Terps and Mountaineers met last season. The freshman caught three passes for 113 yards with two touchdowns, so Joseph will likely be working with a corner to double team Diggs.
Oct. 5 at Baylor: It was an offensive delight or a defensive nightmare, depending on your leanings, but the 70-63 West Virginia win that marked the high point of the Mountaineers' season was certainly must-see TV. Sims should see a heavy workload, in part to keep Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk off the field. Ball control isn't exactly Holgorsen's strong suit, but it might be the best way to win.
Oct. 19 vs. Texas Tech: Holgorsen helped Kliff Kingsbury's meteoric rise up the coaching rank, so the former Texas Tech quarterback will get to say "thank you" and then try to beat Holgorsen. With both so well versed in the spread, it will be intriguing to see the subtle adjustments they make and whether either defense can keep up.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.