Preseason accolades for WVU

As a team, the 2014 edition of the WVU Mountaineers aren’t getting much respect.

A 4-8 season that followed a disappointing 7-6 campaign where your teamed climbed up to the No. 5 spot in the national rankings only to fall apart and end up losing to a so-so Syracuse team in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl will cause that.

But that doesn’t mean your team is void of players.

Such is the case in Morgantown these days following the release of the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik, Outland, Lombardi and Ray Guy Awards. Senior Quinton Spain and juniors Karl Joseph and Nick O’Toole were greeted last week with the announcement that their efforts during WVU’s first losing season since 2001 did not go unnoticed.

Spain, who took over the left guard position on offense when former-Parkersburg standout Josh Jenkins finished up his collegiate career, started all 12 games last fall and has 25 starts to his credit-the most of any lineman on the team. A preseason All-American third team selection, he was named to the 2013 All-Big 12 Conference third team by Phil Steele and was an All-Big 12 honorable mention by the league’s coaches.

Joseph earned a preseason spot on the Bednarik Award following a sophomore campaign that witnessed the Florida-native finish with 68 tackles as well as producing two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, four pass breakups, an interception and three tackles for loss. He ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 2 nationally in fumbles recovered.

O’Toole, known as much for his ‘handle bar’ moustache as for his punting skills, is one of 25 candidates for the Ray Guy Award. Last season, the California-native ranked No. 15 nationally and No. 2 in the Big 12 with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. His 26 punts of 50 yards or more were the most by a Mountaineer since Todd Sauerbrun had 33 in 1994.

While it is great to see your favorite team have its players recognized nationally for their talents, it doesn’t ensure a winning season. Only victories can do that and the jury is still out as to whether or not Dana Holgorsen’s fourth Mountaineer squad can return to the form that witnessed the old gold and blue win 10 games and an Orange Bowl championship in 2011.

Few coaching staffs in the country have more to prove than Holgorsen and his staff.

The move to a new home-the Big 12 Conference-is now in its third year. The vast majority of the players that will make up this year’s roster were recruited by this coaching staff. And ‘lack of experience’ can no longer be the reason given for fourth quarter losses.

Fans care about one thing-wins and losses.

They tire quickly over the endless excuses for why a program, which had a run of three straight Top 10 finishes, has dropped so drastically. At least, it appears that WVU has the players to change all of that.

Contact Jim Butta at jbutta@newsandsentinel.com