You've Got Questions

Mercifully, after 14 practices spread out over the course of more than a month, West Virginia's Gold-Blue spring game is here -- and with it comes the chance to learn several things about this year's iteration of the Mountaineers.

Much as it was after WVU's 2006 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia and again after its 2008 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma, the hype machine has gone into overdrive surrounding the program this spring.

National media outlets -- ESPN.com, ESPN television, CBSSports.com and SI.com, namely -- have made the trek to Morgantown to get an in-person look at what this year's team is made of. WVU officials have bent over backwards to accommodate them and generate a considerable amount of generally positive press.

Reporters from each of those outlets have gotten the chance to watch full practices and spend extra time with coaches outside of what us mere local yokels have been allotted. Thus, for the vast majority of us, this will be our first real chance to see if all the hype is justified.

And make no mistake, there is plenty of hype. Lofty national rankings are expected in the preseason. Quarterback Geno Smith is on the radar of many when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has been trotted around to just about every television and radio show in the country, it seems.

But hype won't win a single game for the Mountaineers this fall.

What will?

Perhaps an improved offensive line, something both Holgorsen and position coach Bill Bedenbaugh have discussed extensively this spring. But with all due respect to both men, who know far more about football than this writer or any other who covers West Virginia, the words are somewhat empty until we see a bit of evidence.

Ditto for the team's new hybrid defense. What we know about it is entirely based on conversations with co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson: sometimes it's a 3-4. Sometimes it's a 4-3. All the time, it's supposed to be aggressive and pursue turnovers like mad.

And from what players and coaches have said, it has been reasonably simple to grasp -- allowing the defense to compete with the team's offense all spring. So perhaps it shouldn't look ugly or disjointed at all. The spring game, though, will show us how true or how hollow those words will ring.

It's a chance to see if Tavon Austin really is "a totally different guy" heading into his second year in this offense. It's a chance to see what the running back competition looks like, with Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie getting a chance to make an impression before Dustin Garrison returns this fall.

For the offense as a whole, it's time to show what it means to be in Dana Holgorsen's Offense, Version 2.0.

So much has been made about the improvement that should be evident from year one to year two under WVU's offensive mastermind of a head coach, but thus far, it's been nothing but words. Will we see uptempo play more than we did a season ago? Fewer communication problems? Better decisions? To put it simply, more points?

And for the program's proud fan base, it's a chance to show just how much excitement truly surrounds Mountaineer football this year. Holgorsen himself set the bar: he wants to see 30,000 people inside Milan Puskar Stadium for the game.

A forecast that, as of this writing, calls for temperatures in the mid-50s and the possibility of rain showers likely won't help hit that mark.

But West Virginia as a school, an athletic program -- heck, as a state -- has taken advantage of as many opportunities as possible to puff out its chest in an effort to show Big 12 brass that this place is a natural fit (geography notwithstanding) in its new league.

With Big 12 officials working the game and representatives from the conference's bowl partners reportedly scheduled to be in attendance, will Mountaineer fans show themselves to literally be "fair weather" in nature?

How much the answers to all of these questions matter is up for debate. After all, April is a long way from September, when the plays and the points actually matter -- and when we have far more evidence than one glorified scrimmage with which to make judgements about this team.

But for the first time since the Orange Bowl beatdown that led to so much of the program's hype this spring, observers can finally watch West Virginia play football. Perhaps, when it's all over, we'll finally be able to answer a few questions.


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