MORGANTOWN-Coming off of its first losing season since 2001, the Mountaineers from West Virginia University face a 12-game slate that includes three teams ranked in the Top 10 of the preseason coaches' poll and a trio of others who find themselves among the Top 30.
Not exactly the kind of medicine besieged head coach Dana Holgorsen needs as he feels the heat turning up surrounding his stay in Morgantown.
"We really haven't talked about it (the schedule)," said Holgorsen, who is 21-17 overall since taking over in 2011. "The schedule is what it is. Our job is to get our players ready to open on August 30 and that's what we are doing."
What an opener it is.
WVU will travel to the site of one of the school's greatest victories -a 38-35 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia in Atlanta'a Georgia Dome-to take on a No. 2 Alabama team that has captured three of the last five national championship titles, but is coming off back-to-back losses to close out last season.
The Mountaineers return home to face a Towson team that played for the FBS national title before closing out the non-conference portion of their schedule by facing a Maryland Terrapins squad that completely dominated the old gold and blue a year ago, winning by a 37-0 margin.
WVU opens its third season in the Big 12 by hosting an Oklahoma team that not only is ranked No. 3 in the preseason polls, but has been picked by many to be one of the four teams that will make up the first-ever College Football Playoff series. The Jayhawks from Kansas come to Morgantown next to open the month of October.
Holgorsen and his staff and players will close out the first half of the 2014 season on the road at Texas Tech before hosting a Baylor Bears team that not only won the Big 12 a year ago, but torched the Mountaineers' defense for 73 points.
The remainder of the schedule has WVU playing at Oklahoma State (Oct. 25), hosting TCU (Nov. 1), at Texas (Nov. 8), hosting Kansas State (Nov. 20) and closing out the regular season on the road at Iowa State (Nov. 29).
"The schedule is a challenging one, but it's also the kind of schedule you must play if you want to be considered for one of those final four spots at the end," said Holgorsen. "Right now, we are focused on our first opponent. We have watched film on our first three over the summer, but we are focused on Alabama."
There may very well be a silver lining for the Mountaineers, however, as this is Holgorsen's deepest team during his four years at the school.
"I feel good about it offensively and where we're with that. There are some guys-who we have been able to count on in the past-who are continuing to show us that. We have to develop a sixth lineman, a seventh lineman, an eighth lineman and a couple of backup receivers.
"Who's going to get the specific reps at running back? All that stuff, we will continue to monitor that. Defensively, it's probably a little trickier because we have more bodies-more guys who are available to identify who does what's right and who doesn't. It's a constant evaluation."
Offensively, fifth-year senior Clint Trickett was named before camp as the team's starting quarterback with senior Dreamius Smith and sophomore Wendell Smallwood coming out of the spring atop the depth chart at running back.
The receiving corps has experience with the return of Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts, but still lacks depth while the offensive line consists of sophomore Tyler Orlosky at center, seniors Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski at the guards and junior Marquis Lucas and sophomore Adam Pankey at the tackles.
University of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell as well as Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie give the Mountaineers a solid stable of running backs while Devonte Mathis, Vernon Davis Jr., Jordan Thompson, K.J. Myers, Ricky Rogers and freshman Shelton Gibson are working daily to move up on the team's depth chart.
Up front, look for juniors Stone Underwood, and Russell Haugton-James, sophomore Tony Matteo and freshman Marcell Lazard to see playing time.
Defensively, first-year coordinator Tony Gibson has 18 linebackers to line up in the Mountaineers' 3-4 alignment and a veteran secondary that includes All-Big 12 preseason first team selection Karl Joseph.
"What we want to do is get fresh bodies out there," said Gibson. "So, if we're in a nickel package, we'll bring an extra defensive back in, and maybe take a nose guard out and put more speed in up front-that kind of stuff.
"We just have to look. We have to make sure we have cover guys first. (Brandon) Golson, (Edward) Muldrow, and (Shaq) Riddick-those guys will hopefully all be on the field getting pressure on the quarterback."
Up front look for senior Dontrill Hyman and junior Kyle Rose to line up at the ends with sophomore Christian Brown getting the nod at the nose tackle. The linebacking corps has K.J. Dillon at Spur, Isaiah Bruce at Will, Nick Kwiatkoski at Sam, and Golson at Will while the secondary has senior Ishmael Banks and sophomore Daryl Worley at the corners and Joseph and sophomore Jeremy Tyler at the safeties.
Special teams also look to be strong with the return of Nick O'Toole at punter, Josh Lambert as the placekicker, John DePalma at long snapper and Parkersburg native Michael Molinari at holder and kickoffs.