When Rich Rodriguez was hired away from Clemson, West Virginia fans expected plenty of passing fireworks. What they've seen is a spread offense dominated by the run -- as well as a surprising amount of success. This year, the expectations in Morgantown are the highest since Rodriguez hit town.
After sharing last season's Big East title with Miami, WVU welcomes back most of its key players on both sides of the ball. Also, the powerful Hurricanes have departed for the ACC. And although Virginia Tech remains on the schedule, the Hokies, likewise, are in the ACC and out of the Mountaineers' path to a Big East title.
"Nobody is going to take us lightly this year," Rodriguez said. "The key for us is to be hungry to prove ourselves not just every week, but every play. If we take that kind of approach, we won't have to worry about the external stuff."
OffenseRasheed Marshall is one of the fastest quarterbacks in the nation. He was clocked during spring drills at 4.36 in the 40-yard dash. The key is for him to improve his accuracy. What helps is having long-ball threat Chris Henry around.
"Chris is still raw, but he's a supreme talent," Rodriguez said.
On board to take the heat off Henry is Eddie Jackson, a transfer from Washington. He has just one season of eligibility remaining, but WVU's coaches are expecting him to make an impact.
The tailback position is again strong. Gone is Quincy Wilson, but Kay-Jay Harris has the potential to one-up both Wilson and the team's previous star, Avon Cobourne. Tim Brown, who missed last season, and Dan Mozes anchor the offensive line.
DefenseWVU will miss linebacker Grant Wiley, the heart of the 2003 Mountaineer defense, but should be strong in the secondary and improved up front.
Rodriguez's concern is applying pressure in '04. "The quarterbacks we played last year were way too comfortable," he said.
Along the line, Ben Lynch, known for his quick first step and overall speed, has been moved from nose to end.
Scott Gyorko may be the best bet to step into Wiley's role as the team leader at linebacker. At middle linebacker, Adam Lehnortt should reclaim his position after sitting out spring with a bum shoulder. The most talented linebacker, however, is speedy Kevin McLee, set to start on the strong side.
Rodriguez wants better pass defense -- especially on first and second downs -- from his secondary. But he has the talent to get it. Spur Mike Lorello, free safety Jahmile Addae, bandit Lawrence Audena and corner Adam "Pacman" Jones give the Mountaineers an abundance of athleticism in the secondary.
SpecialistsThe Mountaineers have no trouble returning kicks. Jones is a standout. Rodriguez also has Harris, Jackson and Jason Colson, among others, at his disposal.
What WVU needs is improved kickers. Brad Cooper, the Mountaineers' placekicker and kickoff man last season, was only 1-of-7 on field goal tries of 40 yards and beyond. The punting may go to a sophomore, hometown product Eric Daugherty.
Final AnalysisWith a favorable schedule, a slew of returning starters, the return of Brown at tackle, and some talented newcomers, West Virginia is primed to make a serious run at a BCS berth. Miami, which bolted for the ACC, is off the schedule. WVU will play at Virginia Tech, which likewise left the Big East, so a loss in Blacksburg wouldn't affect the Mountaineers' league title hopes.
West Virginia's main concerns are improved passing from Marshall, a stronger pass rush and better pass defense on first and second downs.