MORGANTOWN - What a difference a year makes.
At this time last season, the West Virginia University football program was preparing for its inaugural season in the Big 12 with all the hopes and dreams of its faithful riding on the arm of senior quarterback Geno Smith.
It went well. For five games. Then WVU was outscored 104-28 in back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State, and that sparked a five-game losing streak that eventually led to a 7-6 record, including a 38-14 loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
If that wasn't bad enough, Smith, the school's all-time passing leader, along with Tavon Austin, the only player in NCAA history to finish his career with more than 3,000 receiving yards and more than 1,000 rushing yards, and Stedman Bailey, who led the nation with 25 receiving touchdowns and finished with the second-highest amount in a single season, are all now playing in the National Football League, leaving third-year coach Dana Holgorsen to answer the not-so-simple question of how the Mountaineers plan to score in 2013.
''I have been talking to our guys about this all the time,'' Holgorsen said. ''How are we going to score a point without three of the best players that ever played the game here? Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, between the two of them, scored 40-some touchdowns, which is obviously pretty good. That doesn't mean we have guys on our roster that can't score touchdowns. The Big 12 lost a lot of receivers to the NFL last year. There are some guys waiting in the wings, maturing and developing that we just don't know yet. I can say that about our guys as well. We have some guys that are going to develop into some pretty good players.''
Holgorsen, in the mean time, is hoping he can cash in on some already developed players, particularly Florida State transfer quarterback Clint Trickett (6-foot-3, 185, pounds) and Houston transfer running back Charles Sims (6-0, 213).
''He's got game experience,'' Holgorsen said of Trickett. ''He's got quarterback experience. But what we're asking him to do in our offense is different (from Florida State). He's got to adjust to that. He's a smart kid; he's a bright kid and he's very intuitive.
"He's got a good feel for the game, which is going to put him in a position to be able to beat out guys that have been taking snaps in our offense for the past two to three years. It's a credit to him that he's in the race.''
Trickett, who went 22 of 34 for 272 yards last season for the Seminoles, was battling against Smith's primary backup from a season ago, Paul Millard (6-2, 219), as well as redshirt freshman Ford Childress (6-5, 234) for the chance to guide the Mountaineers offense.
It's still up in the air as to who will be under center for WVU's season opener against William and Mary Aug. 31, however, Holgorsen pointed out the quarterback with the least mistakes will be the one he trusts most.
''The quarterback that doesn't make the bad decisions and turn the ball over is the guy that will have the chance to be the guy,'' he said. ''That is probably the same everywhere. I do not care what offense you run or where you are at, the quarterback that takes care of the ball and puts guys in position to be successful is the guy that will be your quarterback.''
Still, whomever the quarterback may be, he'll have a plethora of backs to hand the ball to, including Sims and junior Andrew Buie (5-9, 190), the Mountaineers' leading rusher from a season ago with 851 yards on 179 carries. Buie finished the season ranked No. 9 in the Big 12 in rushing. Also in that group is junior Dustin Garrison (5-8, 182) and junior college transfer Dreamius Smith (5-11, 217).
Garrison was limited early in 2013 after coming back from a knee injury he sustained before the 2012 Orange Bowl. He played in 10 games, averaged 4.5 yards per rush, and found the end zone twice.
Smith enrolled at WVU in January after having an all-conference season at Butler Community College in El Dorado Kan., where he ran for 984 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Sims joined the Mountaineers in July after graduating from Houston two months earlier. He rushed for 2,370 yards and 29 touchdowns and caught 158 passes for 759 yards with eight scores in three seasons with the Cougars.
''He's a good player,'' Holgorsen said of Sims. ''He's very well rounded. His ball skills are good. He's setting up blocks, and he's a good team player.
"He's got an abundance of ability and a great attitude. He's fitting in really well with the team. I'm extremely glad that he's here.''
So glad, in fact, that Holgorsen isn't even sure where Sims should line up on game days.
''There's only one of him,'' the coach said. ''We can't clone him and put him in two different spots at the same time. That's just fun as a coach to be able to do that, to have guys like that who can do different things. You can start scheming. He's much like Tavon Austin. There aren't many guys who can play several different spots. They're hard to come by.''
One reason that Sims may find himself in the slot position rather than in the backfield is because of Holgorsen's displeasure with the inside receivers.
Others that could be moved to the inside spot are sophomore Cody Clay (6-3, 252), true freshman Elijah Wellman (6-2, 235) as well as linebacker-turned-fullback Garret Hope (6-3, 245).
Starting X, Y, and Z receivers will be K.J. Myers (6-2, 197), Shelton Gibson (6-1, 175) and Kevin White (6-3, 211), respectively, with Mario Alford (5-9, 175), Daikiel Shorts (6-0, 201) and Devonte Mathis (6-1, 210) providing depth.
West Virginia's offensive line did a solid job blocking in 2012 and will return both starting tackles, Curtis Feigt (6-7, 314) and Quinton Spain (6-5, 335). Spain started all 13 games and Feigt earned the the starting nod against TCU and stayed there the remainder of the season.
Nick Kindler (6-6, 298), who returns for his senior season, played in all 13 games as a backup at tackle and earned one start. Marquis Lucas (6-4, 312) saw limited action and was battling for the starting left guard spot, while junior college transfer Mark Glowinski (6-5, 305) sat out last season and currently is at the starting right guard spot.
Russell Haughton-James (6-5, 312) saw action in the first two games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He, along with redshirt freshman Tony Matteo (6-4, 296), look to break into the guard rotation.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky (6-4, 296), veteran Pat Eger (6-6, 302) and junior college transfer Stone Underwood will battle at center.
When Holgorsen isn't entertaining questions about who's going to throw, catch and carry the football, he's busy with inquiries as to how new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is going to improve a defense that gave up 45 or more points in six games last season.
''That's why he's been hired,'' Holgorsen noted. ''The 3-4 defense is perimeter-oriented. With the nuts and bolts with what we've always done offensively, it has been perimeter-oriented - not just being able to throw the ball down field or run between the tackles when there are not enough people in the box, but being able to get the ball on the perimeter to where the defense has to cover the whole field.
"You have to go sideline to sideline and be able to go backward to be able to go down the field if you have it, as well.''
WVU was among the worst defenses in the Bowl Subdivision and allowed more than 4,000 passing yards and 38 touchdowns on the way to giving up a school-record 495 points.
''There are some things that we can do differently this year than we did last year,'' Holgorsen said. ''There are going to be small differences that you really won't be able to tell from the stands. I like to think that these guys are just a year more comfortable in what we are asking them to do.''
Seniors Will Clarke (6-7, 273) and Shaq Rowell (6-4, 305) return to lead the defensive line, Clarke at tackle and Rowell at nose tackle. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Rose (6-4, 283) is slated to start at defensive end.
Sophomores Christian Brown (6-3, 308) and Eric Kinsey (6-2, 265) look to break into the rotation this season.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bruce (6-1, 231) was No. 2 last season in tackles with 94, including 51 unassisted, had two fumbles recovered and was tied four fourth on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss. Bruce was a freshman All-American first-team selection by collegefootballnews.com and finished the 2012 season ranked No. 11 in the Big 12 in tackles and tied for No. 6 in fumbles recovered.
Will linebackers include Nick Kwiatkoski (6-2, 232) and Jared Barber (6-0, 233), while Doug Rigg (6-1, 237) will line up next to Bruce as the Sam backers.
The Spur position will see Wes Tonkery (6-2, 22) and Hodari Christian (6-0, 218) with Dozie Ezemma (6-2, 235) in the Buck spot.
Sophomore safety Karl Joseph (510, 200) was also on the list of first-team freshman All-Americans and led the Mountaineers in tackles (104), solo tackles (76) and forced fumbles (3).
Fellow safety Darwin Cook (5-11, 203) finished fourth on the team in tackles and looks to finish his career with a strong senior season.
Cornerbacks include Brodrick Jenkins (5-10, 183), Ricky Rumph (5-11, 182) and Brandon Napoleon (5-11, 178).