Bowl hopes will rest on final three games

The following is the fourth of a five-part series dealing with the West Virginia University Mountaineers’ 2013 regular-season schedule. Part IV deals with the team’s final three games in its new home-the Big 12 Conference.

MORGANTOWN – If the Mountaineers from West Virginia University can come out of their first six Big 12 games with a respectable record, the final third of their 2013 regular season schedule sets up pretty favorably for the old gold and blue with home games against Texas and Iowa State and a road trip to conference cellar dweller Kansas.

Texas

Saturday, Nov. 9 (TBA)

Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns will field one of the most talent-ladened team the Mountaineers will face in 2013. With 53 letterwinners returning which includes 10 offensive starters, nine defensive starters and two special teams starters.

The backfield is loaded with the return of junior David Ash at quarterback as well as running backs Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray. That group will operate behind an offensive front that returns intack with Josh Cochran and Donald Hawkins at tackles, Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins at guards and Dominic Espinosa at center.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is the only significant loss on the offensive side of the football. But, that loss will be diminished with the return of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley and tight ends Greg Daniels and M.J. McFarland.

Ash, who has 18 starts among his 25 career games at UT, ranks No. 8 on the Longhorns’ career passing list with 3,778 yards. Several (269) of which came came in a three-point home loss (48-45) to the Mountaineers. Bergeron added four touchdowns-all coming on runs of 4 yards or less-and finished with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2012.

And, while the prevent unit returns all, but First-team All-American (Pro Football Weekly) safety Kenny Vaccaro and end Alex Okafor-the CFPA Elite Defensive Lineman Trophy winner-it is also the same unit which surrendered a career-high 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns to the Mountaineers’ Andrew Buie.

Texas never has played in Morgantown so while the crowd will be somewhat less than the 101,000 that took in last year’s meeting at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, fans of the old gold and blue-all 60,000+-will have Milan Puskar Stadium rocking for the Longhorns first-ever visit.

at Kansas

Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA)

If there is a ‘trap’ game on the 2013 schedule, it is this one.

An emotional victory over the Longhorns could have the Mountaineers heading to their first-ever trip to Lawrence (KS) over-confident while a lopsided, or even a hard-fought, loss this late in the season may result in a team looking to ‘just play the season out’.

Whatever the case, however, WVU will encounter a Jayhawk team that returns only five players on offense and four on defense from a team that posted a 1-11 mark in 2012.

One of those coming back on offense is quarterback Michael Cummings. The sophomore-to-be played in the final eight games of the season a year ago, starting five of them (including a 59-10 loss to WVU), connecting on 43-of-94 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns.

Rejoining Cummings in the backfield will be running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson.

Sims played in nine games, after missing the first three due to a suspension, and finished with 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns while Pierson chipped in with 760 yards and four touchdowns. Neither, however, had significant numbers against a WVU defense that, up to that point, was surrendering yards at an all-time pace.

Sims finished with 57 yards and the Jayhawks only touchdown on 18 carries while Pierson chipped in 30 yards on seven attempts.

Defensively, tackles Jordan Taval and Kevin Young and end Keba Agostinho return up front while Ben Heeney, who started all 12 games at middle linebacker, is the only returnee at linebacker.

This doesn’t mean that Charlie Weis’ second Kansas team won’t have experience as 18 letterwinners return on offense, 14 on defense and three on special teams. But, this also will be the same Jayhawk team that dropped close decisions to TCU (20-6), Oklahoma State (20-14), Texas (21-17) and Texas Tech (41-34, 2 OT).

Iowa State

Friday or Saturday, Nov. 29-30 (TBA)

Their first meeting was anything, but pretty, as Geno Smith’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin with 6:31 showing on the clock and Austin’s two-point conversion run gave the Mountaineers a 31-24 lead while the defense overcame its own silly mistakes down the stretch with Karl Joseph’s fumble recovery in the end zone ending any hope of a Cyclones victory.

Paul Rhoades’ fourth season at ISU sees the return of starting quarterback Sam Richardson as well as running backs James White and Jeff Woody. Richardson tormented the Mountaineers’ defense all game long a year ago, rushing for 119 yards on 18 attempts while connecting on 13-of-31 passes for 162 yards and three scores.

Richardson finished the season with 541 yards and eight touchdowns, completing 46-of-79 attempts while White led the team in rushing with 505 yards and two touchdowns on 99 carries.

Up front the Cyclones bring back center Tom Farniok, right guard Ethan Tuftee and right tackle Kyle Lichtenberg, but the receiving corps returns senior Albert Gary and junior Jarvis West, but no starters.

Defensively, Rhoades and his staff will have their work cut out for them as All-American linebacker A.J. Klein is just one of seven starters not returning. Senior end Willie Scott will look to anchor the team’s line while senior Jeremiah George will attempt to replace Klein at linebacker.

The secondary has the most experience with the return of seniors Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington at strong and free safety, respectively.

Just like a year ago, however, this game could have big implications on which, if any, bowl aspirations either team holds and, with the game being played in Morgantown, the Cyclones may find the trip East to be too much to overcome.