Maryland will provide biggest non-Big 12 test

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series previewing the West Virginia University Mountaineers’ 2013 regular season schedule. Part I deals with the team’s slate of three non-conference games.

MORGANTOWN-There will be no season opener with Marshall University. There isn’t even an LSU or any other program with a Top 25 pedigree.

But, the non-conference portion of West Virginia University’s 2013 schedule will have some intriguing matchups if, for no other purpose, than to help prepare WVU for the rigors of Big 12 play.

William & Mary

Saturday, Aug. 31

As has become the norm over the past decade, the Mountaineers will dip into the FCS to take on William and Mary of the Colonial Athletic Association in the season opener on Saturday, Aug. 31. The noon start will be the first time head coach Jimmye Laycock and the Tribe have visited Milan Puskar Stadium, but it won’t represent the first meeting between the two schools.

That came during the 1954 season and resulted in a 20-6 WVU win-the first of 15 during the 16-game series with The Tribe. The only blemish for the old gold and blue came in 1967 when it had to settle for a 16-16 tie.

William and Mary is coming off of a 2-9 mark in 2012. The Tribe’s only wins came against Georgia State (35-3), who WVU will face on Sept. 14, and Penn (34-28). The Tribe played six opponents that were ranked in the FCS’ Top 25, losing to No. 12 Towson University (20-17), No. 12 Delaware (51-21), No. 4 James Madison (27-26 OT), No. 11 New Hampshire (28-25), No. 4 Old Dominion (41-31) and No. 20 Richmond (21-14).

In 32 seasons at the helm, Laycock’s teams have posted a 215-160-2 mark.

This year’s squad returns some firepower as juniors Keith McBride and Darnell Lewis and sophomore Mikal Abdul-Saboor will be back in the backfield while junior Raphael Ortiz is one of three returning signal-callers for The Tribe.

McBride led the team with 689 yards and three TDs on 139 carries (5.0 ypc) while Laws chipped in with 267 yards and three scores on 51 touches. Abdul-Saboor, who also returns as one of the team’s leading pass catchers, added 242 yards on 69 carries.

WVU’s season opener will be just as experienced under center as Ortiz returns after completing 70-of-131 attempts for 942 yards and five touchdowns with only two interceptions. However, if he can’t get the job done, look for seniors Michael Graham (58-127-6, 776 yards, 8 TD) or Brent Caprio (34-57-2, 358, 3 TD) to step in and get the job done.

And, while there may not be a Tavon Austin or a Stedman Bailey in the receiving corps, The Tribe does have juniors Tre McBride, Sean Ballard and Bo Revell. McBride is coming off of a sophomore season that saw him snatch 55 passes for 897 yards and 10 TD.

Defensively, William and Mary surrendered 24.3 points and 353.3 yards per game, giving hope to a young Mountaineer offense that will be searching for its playmakers at the start of the season.

Georgia State

Saturday, Sept. 14 (noon)

Georgia State, which posted a 1-10 mark in 2012, becomes the second program from the Colonial Athletic Association to visit Mountaineer Field when the Panthers of head coach Trent Miles comes to town for a noon kickoff on Saturday, Sept. 14.

As porous as the Panthers were on defense, allowing 38.5 points and 470.1 yards per game, they were just as anemic on offense where they averaged 17.4 points and 313.9 yards per outing.

Good news for GSU fans is that the team returns leading passer Ben McLane, leading receiver Albert Wilson and second leading rusher Travis Evans. Bad news is that the defense doesn’t appear to have shown much improvement following spring drills.

McLane, a sophomore, passed for 1,592 yards and 10 touchdowns, completing 139-of-274 attempts with 11 interceptions. Should he need help, sophomore Ronnie Bell also returns after completing 34-of-67 passes for 522 yards and three scores with 10 interceptions.

As for Wilson, the senior-to-be is coming off of a 2012 campaign that saw him barely miss the 1,000-yard plateau, finishing with 947 yards and seven touchdowns on 48 catches. Giving the Panthers a solid one-two punch will be senior Danny Williams, who latched onto 20 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown.

The running game, however, will be a question mark as Miles and his staff look for a reliable replacement for leading rusher Donald Russell (120-747, 3 TD). The primary candidate is Evans, who finished with 323 yards and two scores on 75 carries.

University of Maryland

Saturday, Sept. 21, FedEx Stadium (TBA)

Rounding out the Mountaineers’ non-conference slate of games is one of WVU’s oldest, and most disliked rivals-the University of Maryland.

A series that began in 1919, the two teams resumed their home-and-home rivalry after a two-year hiatus during the 2008-09 campaigns. Since its resumption, the old gold and blue has increased its overall margin in the series to 26-21-2, including a 31-21 WVU win last fall in Morgantown.

However, the primary architects of that victory-Geno Smith, Austin and Bailey-are gone to the NFL while Randy Edsell’s Terrapins return their brightest performer during a 4-8 campaign-sophomore Stefon Diggs.

In his first season in College Park, Diggs established himself as one of the most dangerous offensive players in the country. Not only did the Maryland native catch 54 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns, but he also ran the football 20 times for 114 yards, returned 22 punts for 221 yards and 25 kickoffs for 713 yards and two scores.

Yes, the Terps may be without starting quarterback Perry Hills, who completed 97-of-169 attempts for 1,336 yards and eight touchdowns, who is recovering from a torn ACL, but sophomore Brandon Ross returns to the backfield after leading the team with 390 yards on 85 carries.

Maryland also brings back offensive linemen Mike Madaras, De’Onte Arnett and Sal Conaboy as well as wide receiver Marcus Leak. Should Hills not be ready to play, look for either junior Ricardo Young or sophomore Dustin Dailey to take over the play-calling duties.

Defensively, the Terps lost six starters, but return lineman Darius Kilgo, linebacker Cole Farrand, defensive backs Anthony Nixon and Jeremiah Johnson and cornerback Dexter McDougle. But, this is a unit that ranked 21st nationally, giving up just 336.8 yards per game.

If Edsell can find suitable replacements on defense and Hill returns to the form he showed during the seven games he started in 2012, this could be a very, very dangerous game for the Mountaineers, who are 9-11-1 overall at College Park.