West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen mentioned at Big 12 Media Days that depth is one of the keys to being successful in the talent-loaded conference.
The fourth-year head coach doesn’t have to look far to find one of the deepest position groups in the Big 12.
It resides in his backfield.
The Mountaineers go five deep at running back, and boast a versatile blend of size, speed and power amongst them. Senior Dreamius Smith emerged as the front runner during the spring, and heads into fall camp as the starting running back.
After transferring to West Virginia from community college in 2013, Smith rushed for 494 yards on 103 carries with five touchdowns last season while sharing carries with former-WVU running back Charles Sims.
The entire nation witnessed Smith’s combination of power and breakaway speed last season against Oklahoma when he eluded several would-be tacklers at the line, then raced 75 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
Now taking on more of an expanded role within the offense, Smith appears to have all the ingredients for a breakout season in 2014.
Sophomore Wendell Smallwood figures to play a bigger role in the Mountaineers’ offense in 2014. Smallwood, who is listed as the No. 2 running back, is just as dangerous a slot receiver as he is in the backfield.
Sophomore Rushel Shell will make his debut for the Mountaineers with a lot of hype surrounding him.
Shell, who transferred to West Virginia from Pittsburgh last summer, was one of the most sought after running backs in the country coming out of high school. A former five-star prospect, Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman at Pittsburgh in 2012.
Juniors Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie return to the West Virginia lineup in 2014.
Garrison, who led the team with 742 rushing yards as a true freshman in 2011, missed the majority of last season due to an injury.
Buie sat out last season with a redshirt after leading the team with 851 rushing yards as a sophomore in 2012.
Both Garrison and Buie have had breakout games over the course of their careers at West Virginia.
Garrison rushed for 291 yards on 32 carries with two touchdowns in his first career start against Bowling Green in 2011.
Buie burst onto the national scene after tallying 281 all-purpose yards against Texas in 2012, including 63 rushing yards on seven carries and a touchdown in the Mountaineers’ final drive to seal the victory.
Freshman Donte Thomas-Williams also joined the running back competition this summer.
Junior Cody Clay will remain the starter at the hybrid tight end/fullback position. Clay, who was named a team captain during the spring, brings plenty of experience to the position, playing in 25 games and starting 15 since 2012.
Smith and Smallwood both spent last season learning from 1,000-yard back Charles Sims. Add proven backs Shell, Garrison and Buie to the mix and the Mountaineers’ backfield figures to be lethal in 2014.