Those who complain about college football media days often point to the fact that coaches say the same thing year after year. They never say anything all that interesting, and their main goal is to avoid controversy — unless, of course, it’s Steve Spurrier taking the microphone at the SEC Media Days.
Entering his third season with the Mountaineers, and second season in the Big 12, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen didn’t have that luxury. He couldn’t just bring out his canned answers, because the situation he faces heading into the 2013 season is about as different from what he faced as the 2012 season approached as the current uniforms are from the ones the Mountaineers wore in the 1930s.
“Everything that we dealt with last year is pretty much opposite this year,” said Holgorsen Tuesday during his meeting with the media at the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, Texas. “(We) had a lot of good things coming off a big bowl game and had some star power on offense and all the experience on offense and very inexperienced on defense. It’s the exact opposite going into this year.”
As Holgorsen mentioned, the players he took with him to the media event this year — Will Clarke, Karl Joseph and Quinton Spain — didn’t draw near as much attention as Geno Smith and Tavon Austin did last year.
Smith signed a contract with the New York Jets on Monday, after being drafted in the second round, and Austin, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, is predicted by many experts to have a major impact in the NFL as a rookie.
Holgorsen admitted he’ll miss Smith and Austin — as well as Biletnikoff Award finalist Stedman Bailey, who’s also now a member of the St. Louis Rams — but, unlike many season ticket holders, he wasn’t ready to panic.
“You’re going to lose good players in college football,” said Holgorsen. “It happens every single year.”
Replacing the school’s all-time passing leader, though, is going to create some discussion.
“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal, and it’s always going to be phenomenal,” said Holgorsen, who apparently left his giant red panic button back in Morgantown. “It’s just going to be with newer people. Who our guy is going to be, I don’t know.”
One guy gaining momentum is Clint Trickett, a Florida State transfer who grew up in Morgantown while his father, Rick Trickett, was coaching the offensive line on Rich Rodriguez’s Mountaineer staff. He’ll have one season of eligibility remaining, after graduating from FSU, and he hopes to use it to make an impact in the town he still calls home.
“He probably has as much experience in the college game as anybody in the Big 12, just because he’s been a starter in some big games (at FSU),” said Holgorsen. “He’s been around it his whole life. He’s a very smart kid, graduated at Florida State in three years and backed up two first-round draft picks at Florida State in three years.”
Holgorsen, though, isn’t handing the job to anybody.
“He’s got to come in and beat an experienced Paul Millard out,” said Holgorsen. “He’s taken 50 percent of the reps for a long, long time in practice. So he knows the offense better than anybody.
“And then you’ve got Ford Childress, who’s going to continue to get better and better. He may have more potential than any of the other guys. He’s just young, with four years remaining.”
There’s also plenty of competition to replace Austin and Bailey, two of the most dynamic receivers in the program’s history.
“I haven’t lost any sleep over Tavon and Stedman moving to the NFL,” said Holgorsen. “We don’t hold anybody back. That’s not the first time we’ve lost receivers to the NFL.
“It gets me excited (about) being able to get out there and face the challenge of being able to take 10 strong guys and coach them and be able to develop them.”
The one position on offense where depth doesn’t seem to be an issue is running back. Charles Sims has transferred in from Houston, and was selected by the league’s media representatives as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Andrew Buie rushed for a team-best 851 yards last year, and Dustin Garrison — who rushed for 291 yards in one game as a freshman — is healthy again after a knee injury slowed him down throughout the 2012 campaign.
Then there’s Dreamius Smith, a top Junior College back, who has joined the program.
“We’ve got capable guys,” said Holgorsen. “We’re as deep there as we’ve ever been, that’s for certain.”
Equally as important, though, are the “big uglies” up front.
“If you want to establish the run game, you’d better have an o-line that’s able to get that done, and I think we’ve got some quality guys up front,” said Holgorsen. “Quinton Spain is here with us today. He’s a great kid. He’s a four-year starter, and he’s massive.
“If we can get other kids to do what he’s able to do, I think our run game will be just fine.”
Cam Huffman is sports editor of The Register-Herald.