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March 24, 2011

College Football Report - West Virginia Looks Ready to Take Back Big East:

Watching West Virginia during the 2010 season was a bit like watching Brad Pitt strike out at the bar. The talent was there, but the right moves weren't made and they just couldn’t piece things together in key moments.

Make no mistake about it, the defense wasn’t the problem. The Mountaineers ranked third in the nation in total defense and third in points given up, sacrificing just 13.5 points an outing.

The offense, however, couldn’t hit a note on a player piano. They had more speed on offense than Charlie Sheen has on a Friday night. Only they weren’t winning, duhhh.

It’s not to say a 9-4 record is anything to run away from, it’s a respectable record, for Louisville or Syracuse in the Big East maybe, but not for West Virginia.

The Mountaineers own half of the Big East titles this decade, including a shared title last season. But what good is a shared title in a BCS conference if you have to miss out on the BCS Bowl? A tie in football, isn’t that like kissing your sister?

So the Mountaineers did what any team would do that needs assistance, they went and got help in the form of new offensive coordinator and future head coach to be, Dana Holgorsen.

Holgorsen’s name might not bring a familiar face to memory, but anyone who’s been paying attention to college football over the last decade has seen his work, and seen a lot of it. The new Mountaineer offensive coordinator has the resume many dream of in college football, and he’s put it together in a relatively short time period.

Holgorsen, 39, comes to Morgantown fresh off quick stops at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, and anyone who’s obviously been paying attention lately knows the before mentioned teams have had some of the highest scoring and most potent offenses of the last decade.

Take his last stop, Oklahoma State, for instance. The Cowboys averaged 28.4 points an outing and 367 yards a game during the 2009 season. Then came Holgorsen in 2010 and OSU exploded for 44.2 points a game, good for No. 3 in the nation, while averaging just over 520 yards a game.

The Cowboys offense set five team records during the 2010 season, including total yards (6,451), points scored (539) and passing yards (4,256). Relatively unknown players like quarterback Brandon Weeden and wideout Justin Blackmon became stars.

But those weren’t the only players to go from near unknowns to gridiron kings under Holgorsen. Quarterbacks Case Keenum and Graham Harrell were transformed into 5,000 yard passers. Wideouts Michael Crabtree and Wes Welker have become Sunday stars after tearing up the college ranks.

Now Holgorsen is onto the next project of his career, where the talent and playmaking ability of his core group, and starting point, is better than ever before.

For the 2011 season, he’ll man the sidelines as the Mountaineers offensive mind. In 2012, he’ll take over as head coach of the program. There’s hope that there’s no hard feelings between current head coach Bill Stewart, who took over in 2008 after the departure of Rich Rodriguez. Holgorsen will clean up the offense and the problems that exist, all with Stewart still around, which is a bit like heading to rehab with you dealer as your sponsor (above).

The talent WVU has to work with is plentiful. Junior quarterback Geno Smith (above, left) has enormous upside after passing for nearly 2,800 yards, 24 touchdowns and only seven picks in his first year of starting. To go along with a 65 percent completion percentage.

The receiving core returns leading man Tavon Austin, a 5-foot-9 jitter bug, who may switch between the slot and tailback in the new offense. A pair of 6-foot-3 deep threats also return, in Brad Starks and Ivan McCartney, a former top recruit and high school teammate of Smith who could explode onto the scene next season.

The key will be putting people in the right places and finding the matchups that can be exploited in the Big East.

From 2004-to-2007 the Mountaineers averaged better than 30 points a game, including a near 40 in 2007. Not surprisingly, a stretch of 11 win seasons followed the program from 2005-to-2007. The last three years -- 9-4 seasons -- the Mountaineers haven’t averaged better than 26 points a game, including last season’s 25.

In a league that has been as weak as the Big East over the latter half of the decade, the best offense usually wins out. Take a look at Cincinnati’s 2008 and 2009 titles with the likes of Brian Kelly to thank.

With the pieces in place on offense, a solid staff led by Holgorsen behind them and a defense that includes pass rushing specialists Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, and a shutdown corner in Keith Tandy, there’s no reason the Mountaineers shouldn’t contend for a BCS Bowl berth in 2011.

The hope, at least for the 2011 season, is that Mountaineer fans and college football channel surfers won’t have to subject themselves to watching any more 15 play, 34 yard drives like the one against Syracuse on Oct. 23. A drive that ended with the ball turned over on downs after they killed 5:55 of a 6:35 remaining game clock, just six points from the lead in the fourth.

Kissing your sister, bad? No, how about listening to Lou Holtz inspirational speeches on replay, bad. But change isnt far off.

Photo credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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