Future bright for WVU after 2012
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 00:08
Just a few months ago, I was considering West Virginia’s upcoming inaugural season in the Big 12 to be somewhat of a do-or-die year for the football team.
Aside from the immense weight of the demanding preseason expectations, Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are seniors who have been absolutely integral to the Mountaineers’ success during their careers the last few seasons at WVU. And, this time next year, it’s basically assured they’ll find themselves standing on NFL sidelines on Sunday afternoons.
It’s even feasible to imagine redshirt junior wide receiver Stedman Bailey forgoing his senior season next year and joining his high school teammate Smith and fellow preseason Biletnikoff Award candidate Austin at the professional level.
The results of losing all three of WVU’s most dynamic and prominent offensive threats next year would be detrimental, to say the least.
But it’s not the death sentence that many people are asserting.
In fact, the Mountaineers will be facing the same scenario in 2013 that every FBS school is eventually faced with, regardless of the university’s prestige or any other influential factors.
But what really sets apart the most successful college football programs is the fact their coaching staff are consistently able to reload their personnel ranks with phenomenal freshmen talent in order to maintain the high level of play on the field year after year.
Now, it’s hard to be able to look into the future to precisely predict the talent pool that West Virginia will be able to lure to Morgantown in the coming years, but the upward trends in recent years are more than comforting.
In 2011, head coach Dana Holgorsen’s first year at WVU, West Virginia’s recruiting class had no four-star signees and was graded No. 52 in the nation by Collegefootballnews.com. Yet, Holgorsen was still able to exploit this class into a 70-33 BCS victory against Clemson in his first year in Morgantown.
This year’s freshmen class was ranked 26 spots higher. And the class had three four-star recruits, including Texas native Ford Childress, who may be groomed to replace the incumbent quarterback Smith after this season.
The 2013 class also already has an array of impressive talent on both sides of the ball.
Simply put, Holgorsen’s presence at WVU has been the standout, driving motivation in continuing to attract the most dynamic and explosive athletes to Morgantown.
His prolific offensive system at WVU instantly captured national attention in 2011, captivating the masses with a potent offensive attack that even defensive stalwarts like LSU had serious issues slowing down.
And West Virginia cemented its national relevance by signing the second-year head coach to a multimillion dollar extension not even two weeks ago.
But it’s not just Holgorsen’s offensive mind that’s attracting freshmen to Morgantown.
In January and February, West Virginia filled the organizational holes left by former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel when he departed for Arizona by hiring new associate head coach and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson and defensive line coach Erik Slaughter.
DeForest brings his existing Big 12 recruiting ties from his years at Oklahoma State to Morgantown, and all three men worked feverishly to install the more traditional defense in the 3-4 during spring, ultimately helping to appeal to a wider range of defensive matriculates.
The Mountaineers already have commitments from two four-star recruits on defense for 2013.
But although the impact of the coaching staff is certainly indisputable, they are really only part of the winning equation that will keep the Mountaineers’ successful even after they lose their biggest impact players at the end of the year.
The other part is Oliver Luck.
His first two years at WVU have resulted in some of the most radical yet successful changes to the athletic department in the entirety of its storied history. And, as WVU’s Athletic Director, Luck has been the central figure in the hiring of the new assistant coaches, Holgorsen’s initial hiring and his extension and now transitioning WVU from the rapidly sinking Big East into the notoriously trending Big 12.
Even if Holgorsen would eventually take his entire staff to another program, Luck has proven he has the wherewithal and promotional abilities as a collegiate Athletic Director to persevere and rebuild around the Mountaineers’ illustrious history of athletics.
With that being said, most of the hypothetical situations I’ve presented – besides the seniors leaving – probably won’t even come to pass any time soon. My point is WVU’s future will not be reliant on a specific individual or a make-or-break season in 2012.
Yes, 2012 will be one of the most anticipated seasons of Mountaineer football in recent memory. But because the program’s leaders have done such an exceptional job at instilling a lasting, winning culture, there is absolutely no reason to believe the collective excitement surrounding the team will fade anytime soon.