July 2, 2012
Over the next four weeks, HerdZone.com will preview each of Marshall's 12 football opponents for the upcoming season.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
In what figures to be its most challenging game of the season, Marshall will open 2012 at in-state rival West Virginia on Sept. 1. Fans of both teams can hope for better weather than at last year's meeting, which saw the Mountaineers win 34-13 in a game called with 14:36 remaining due to never-ending thunderstorms in Morgantown.
Both teams will be coming off bowl victories in Florida. The Mountaineers throttled Clemson, 70-33, in the Discover Orange Bowl, and the Thundering Herd downed FIU, 20-10, in the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl. The two schools will play the "Friends of Coal Bowl" for a seventh consecutive season (the end of the contracted series), and WVU holds an 11-0 advantage in the all-time series.
The Mountaineers look to be every bit as good as they were last season, and sport a No. 8 ranking in the latest edition of the 2012 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, composed by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach. Coach Dana Holgorsen returns for his second season after going 10-3 and winning the Big East Conference's BCS berth after sharing the league title with Cincinnati and Louisville (all 5-2).
In its first Big 12 Conference season, West Virginia also has eight home dates and only four on the road.
With the leadership of Holgorsen, WVU's scoring offense, which ranked 76th in 2010 under the late Coach Bill Stewart with 25.2 points per game, rose to No. 13 for Holgorsen in 2011, at 37.6 points per game. WVU never scored fewer than 21 points in a game.
Offensive Player to Watch
Quarterback Geno Smith excelled in his first year of Holgorsen's high-powered offense, throwing for a school-record 4,385 yards with 31 touchdowns in 2011. Joining Smith, now a senior, in the record books were wide receivers Stedman Bailey (1,279) and Tavon Austin (1,189), who hold the top two spots in Mountaineer history for receiving yards in a single season. All three players could be looking at All-America status, with Smith's name being tossed around as an early Heisman Trophy contender.
Defensive Player to Watch
Safety Terence Garvin had 43 solo tackles and two interceptions last year. He is one of six starters returning for WVU. Garvin will provide experience for a Mountaineer defense that lost defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, along with cornerback Keith Tandy and linebacker Najee Goode. The defense not only will have to adjust to new personnel, but also faces the challenge of stopping the high-octane offenses in the Big 12 Conference, which had six teams finish the season ranked in the top 15 nationally in total offense last season.
After playing in the Big East Conference for the past 21 seasons, how will the Mountaineers fare in the more challenging Big 12? Holgorsen knows the landscape from his time as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Who will step up and replace the defensive force that was Bruce Irvin? The defensive end was selected by the Seattle Seahawks with the 15th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft.
Can new defensive coordinator Joe DeForest improve a defense that allowed 26.8 points per game, a No. 61 rank in the NCAA?
Quote to Note
"This spring has been great. Coach DeForest has simplified the defense for us, and he just keeps saying that as long as I listen to him and the coaches that we will just be a great defense overall. I don't ever look at it as being an individual but as a unit, and our defense has continued to improve. We are going to be great as a team not only on defense but also on offense."
-Matt Moro, WVU senior defensive back
Sept. 1 vs. Marshall
Sept. 15 vs. James Madison (Landover, Md.)
Sept. 22 vs. Maryland
Sept. 29 vs. Baylor*
Oct. 6 at Texas*
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech*
Oct. 20 vs. Kansas State*
Nov. 3 vs. TCU*
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State*
Nov. 17 vs. Oklahoma*
Nov. 24 at Iowa State*
Dec. 1 vs. Kansas*
* Big 12 Conference