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Mitch Vingle: WVU questions, MU solutions and an offer

The views from here:

n When you break down most college football teams, you’ll see three or four story lines to watch. There will always be a few key areas for fans to follow.

WVU, however, is not most college football teams.

When the Mountaineers open training camp on Thursday, they’ll have more story lines to watch than the movies Pulp Fiction, Crash, Love Actually and Traffic put together.

Of course the main story line is head coach Dana Holgorsen himself. After WVU lost six of its last seven last season, athletic director Oliver Luck was moved to issue a statement on the “difficult and trying” year. He supported the coach but added he has “high expectations” for 2014. In other words, Luck had Holgorsen’s back once. Now it’s on the coach.

Within the team ... Lord, where do we start?

There’s quarterback Clint Trickett and his health. First off, is the kid healthy enough to play right away? When Holgorsen named Trickett the starter back on June 24, the QB told me he’d gone through a Grade 2 AC joint separation, which involves a partial dislocation. When the doctor performed surgery, he found a torn rotator cuff as well. Trickett said he’s in a 14-week rehabilitation progression. So there’s that. Also, can Trickett stay healthy? There’s that as well.

If Trickett is injured, will Paul Millard fill in? It seems so unless Trickett is injured late in the season. Then might we see four-star recruit William Crest?

There are scads of story lines. One would expect WVU to emphasize the ground game. But is the offensive line strong enough for that? I’ll take Quinton Spain at guard every day and twice on Sunday, but are sophomores Adam Pankey and Tyler Orlosky and junior Marquis Lucas up to the task? Remember, WVU was tied for 85th nationally in sacks allowed last season. Also, even with Charles Sims, the team ranked No. 82 in rushing yards.

There are the running backs. Wendell Smallwood had all charges dropped Tuesday in regard to an ugly Delaware murder witness intimidation case. Is he completely off the hook, though, with Holgorsen? Will Pitt transfer Rushel Shell surge or bust? Can Dreamius Smith handle the load if he’s the starter? Will Holgorsen put two of them in the same backfield?

Check the receiving corps. Last year the Mountaineers had 16 TD catches. Tavon Austin had that many in his sleep. Sims and true freshman Daikiel Shorts were the team’s leading pass catchers. Is physical Kevin White ready to step up? Can Mario Alford continue his play from the end of last season? And is that really a Shelton Gibson sighting? The former five-star recruit, remember, had to sit out last season because of eligibility problems.

On defense, WVU seems to have depth along the front, but does the line have a star? Will Christian Brown move to end? What about this Gardner-Webb transfer? Could Shaquille Riddick be used like former Mountaineer Bruce Irvin? (By the way, late Monday Riddick tweeted he was “officially becoming a Mountaineer” and said his graduation was Aug. 4 and he’d indeed be in WVU’s camp.)

Overall how much has the defense improved — if it has? Remember WVU was 99th nationally last season in scoring defense. It was 96th in pass efficiency defense and 106th in passing yards allowed. The unit has a ways to go to even be considered mediocre. Will true freshman Dravon Henry really start at free safety?

I realize I’m throwing out more question marks than the Riddler, yet there are simply that many with this team. WVU was No. 113 in third-down conversions last year. Will Holgorsen be able to fix that? His team was tied for 77th in red-zone touchdowns. What about the special teams? West Virginia was 95th in kickoff return defense and 112th in kickoff returns.

Beginning Thursday, Holgorsen and WVU fans will start to get answers.

n I checked with WVU associate athletic director Matt Wells on Tuesday. He said as of Monday the school had sold 29,195 season tickets, which is still the least since 2005. He said on a positive note the school has sold nearly 1,500 mini packages, which include tickets to the Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State games for a total of $175. Wells said approximately 1,100 were sold last season.

n I host a sports fireside chat of sorts on Mondays at Bobby’s Bar and Grill in Cross Lanes and this week the guest was Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. While there, Holliday hinted a player from another position might move into the offensive backfield in the wake of Kevin Grooms’ departure.

It appears there are three options. Word is the Herd could move redshirt sophomore Deandre Reaves from wide receiver to the backfield. Ditto true freshman Hyleck Foster, who was recruited as an athlete. The other option is 6-foot-1, 254-pound junior tight end Devon Johnson. If Johnson is going to move, though, he’ll have to be a major part of the game plan. The reason: He already is at tight end.

At running back now, Holliday has Steward Butler and Remi Watson as well as 2013 academic non-qualifiers Tony Pittman and Brandon Byrd.

n MU football media relations man Jason Corriher has been busy escorting Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato to dates with national reporters.

This Monday and Tuesday, ESPN filmed the QB in his hometown of Miami. Today and Thursday it’s Fox’s turn. On Friday, Cato will be interviewed by CBS Sports Network.

Also, USA Today and Sports Illustrated were on Marshall’s campus earlier for interviews. USA Today has already published its story and SI’s report will come out next month. Martin Rickman was the writer for the latter.

n Poca High had a splash of good news this week.

You might have read in the Gazette that the Dots’ duo of Elijah Cuffee and Luke Frampton, rising sophomores both, performed well for the Big Shots Elite 2017 team in Richmond, Va. In the finals of the under-15 Orange bracket of the East Coast Duel at VCU, Cuffee had 26 points and Frampton had 19.

Well, apparently that didn’t go unnoticed. Poca hoops coach Allen Osborne said on Tuesday that Cuffee then landed a scholarship offer from Marshall via assistant Mark Cline. MU has now offered both Dots as well as South Charleston’s Brandon Knapper and Wheeling Central’s Chase Harler.

WVU, Virginia and North Carolina State are also on Knapper and Harler. James Madison and Winthrop have offered Harler.

For Poca, it’s bringing back memories of Tim Lyle and Ricky Cottrill — except they weren’t the same age. Osborne and Dots fans might want to get some shades. Their future certainly looks bright.

n And finally . . .

A birthday wish.

To my little . . . well, my former little girl. Today my daughter Celeste turns 17. She’s driving. She’s prompting gray hairs. Yet I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Happy birthday darlin’.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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