BIGGEST STRENGTH — Running Back
What? A Dana Holgorsen team is best at running back? Your eyes do not deceive you. In Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, the Mountaineers have two players who have put up more than 900 total yards in a season. Garrison was the Mountaineers' main back in 2011, when he rushed for 742 yards and caught passes for 201 more. But he was largely recovering from an injury a year ago, so Andrew Buie had an even better 2012, rushing for 851 yards and chipping in 318 receiving yards. Both are healthy and ready to go for 2013, and the Mountaineers have added a big-time talent in JUCO transfer Dreamius Smith to the mix. That trio should get the lion's share of the carries moving forward, though there's some young talent in Morgantown as well. Additionally the defensive line appears to be a strength, with West Virginia looking to have a solid two-deep along its three-man front.
BIGGEST QUESTION — Passing Game
"Wide open, man." Perhaps no quote captures the essence of West Virginia offensive guru and zen master Dana Holgorsen, while accurately describing the Mountaineer situation at quarterback after Geno Smith — wide open. But while the quarterback battle between Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress still needs to be settled, it might be even more challenging to try and replace the production that went out the door with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey leaving for the NFL. Add in the departure of underrated No. 3 J.D. Woods, and West Virginia is out three guys who combined for a whopping 289 catches, 3,548 yards and 41 of the team's 44 receiving touchdowns. There's still some talent in there, but it will be difficult to replace that kind of production from a year ago.
BREAKOUT STAR — Karl Joseph
Joseph might have been lost a bit in terms of exposure a year ago because the West Virginia defense struggled. But the then-freshman safety led the team with 104 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and even made seven stops in the backfield. He should continue to improve and could be one of the league's rising young talents at the position. His safety mate Darwin Cook also had a strong spring after making 75 tackles a year ago. And keep an eye on defensive lineman Kyle Rose (6-4 283), who pushed toward a starting spot this spring.
KEY EARLY ENROLLEE — Dreamius Smith
Originally a Kansas signee out of Wichita, Smith spent two years at Butler (Kan.) Community College before making his way to West Virginia. Smith has great size at 5-11 217 and the speed to run away from defenders. Smith led Wichita Heights to a 2010 state championship by rushing 143 times for 1,837 yards and 34 touchdowns, then continued his winning ways by leading Butler to a 22-2 record in his two seasons on campus. At Butler, Smith rushed 220 times for 1,674 yards (7.6 yards per carry) and 26 touchdowns. With his size, Smith brings another element to the Mountaineer backfield that includes scatbacks like Buie and Garrison.
West Virginia remains one of the mystery teams heading into 2013. That's really the only way to describe a squad that must replace so much of their production, but do so with a coach who has a proven history of cranking out great offenses. In that way, West Virginia projects as a bizzaro Iowa State, with the Cyclones forced to replace a ton of defensive production behind a coach with a history of producing very good defenses. Like with Iowa State, you figure that Holgorsen will be able to cobble together an offense that produces, even if it's not quite to the level of previous incarnations. And like with the Cyclones, the Mountaineers have a chance to be a little bit better on their more traditionally weak side of the ball. West Virginia had some young talent on last year's squad, and between the talent on the back end and the better depth up front, WVU had could be better defensively than it was a year ago. This probably won't be a group that will contend for a Big 12 crown, though a repeat of last year's 7-5 record is a possibility.