West Virginia has been selected No. 12 in the Athlon Sports magazine pre-season football poll.
Coming off the huge 70-33 drubbing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl and the fact that many key offensive players are returning makes WVU a top 20 team in most polls.
Also, Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith has been listed as one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates by the publication.
His teammate, Tavon Austin, is also on the watch list for Heisman hopefuls.
Of course WVU is moving to the Big 12 this season. In Smith’s old league, he led the Big East in passing efficiency. He was 8th nationally with 334.8 yards per game. Smith, who will be a senior, threw for a school single season record of 4,385 passing yards.
The speedy Austin, also a senior, set the WVU record with 101 receptions in a single season. The 5-foot-9, 174-pound hybrid back/receiver led the nation in all-purpose yards with an outstanding 198 yards per game.
Austin rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown and raced for 938 kick return yards. The all-purpose back had 268 punt return yards. He had a total of 11 touchdowns last season.
WVU also returns several receivers including Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Ryan Nehlen. They also have experienced running backs Shawne Alston, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison to tote the football in the high-powered Dana Holgorsen offense.
The Mountaineers will have a new defensive coordinator and staff, due to the departure of Jeff Castell and others to Arizona to join former coach Rich Rodriguez.
The Mountaineers also return several of their top offensive linemen.
There will be high expectations for the WVU football program, despite the fact they are jumping to a much stronger conference with the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and others.
It should be an interesting season for WVU coaches, players and their diehard fans.
(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to email@example.com)