2011 WVU Football Season Preview: Quarterbacks

We end our season preview series with the glory position in Dana Holgorsen's offense: Quarterback.  Currently, Marc Bulger holds the WVU single-season record for passing yards with 3,607 yards in 1999.  Last year, Geno Smith threw for 2,763 yards, which, compared to recent totals at WVU, borders on prolific.  The last three years, Holgorsen's quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden in 2010 and Case Keenum in 2009 and 2008) threw for 4,277, 5,671, and 5,020 yards, respecitvely.  Given the expected jump in passing yards and attempts, the importance of the quarterback position is paramount.  The spotlight is bright, and the pressure is intense.  

Currently, the depth chart at quarterback looks something like this:

While the return of Geno Smith to the WVU backfield eases the transition to the new system and gives the Mountaineers a relatively known quantity at quarterback, the situation after him is dubious at best.  We'll break down what we can expect from our signal callers after the jump.

Smith looks poised for a huge season.  He's a seasoned veteran, playing meaningful minutes as a true freshman against Auburn, Marshall, and Florida State where he acquitted himself well.  Last year as a sophomore, he grew into a capable leader, tossing 24 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions (3 in a homecoming loss to Syracuse). Now, in Holgorsen's new offense, many pundits are tabbing Smith as a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman.  Of course, any potential Heisman candidacy is contingent on him staying healthy, putting the onus on the offensive line to keep him on his feet.  As long as the line holds up its end of the bargain, the quarterback position appears to be in capable hands.

Should, God forbid, something happen to Smith, the backup duties fall to true freshman Paul Millard.  By all accounts, Millard is more than serviceable having played in a similar system in high school and having the benefit of spending the entire spring and summer acclimating himself to the college game.  Millard expressed his desire to push Smith for the starting spot, and according to Holgorsen had some days where he was the better quarterback. But given Geno's poise under pressure and proven ability to come through in clutch situations, Millard is going to have to wait his turn.  Nonetheless, it's nice to know that the next-in-line has shown flashes if we need to call on him.  Expect to see Millard play a bunch in mop-up situations to get him ready in case of an injury emergency.

Technically, walk-ons Michael Burchett and Ian Loy are next on the depth chart, so I suppose they could play if something happened to both Smith and Millard.  In reality, they were brought in to ease the workload on the two scholarship quarterbacks and to assist on the scout team.  Burchett, in particular, had very good high school career (at least statistically), so he may be able to get the job done.  But, barring some type of an all-timer of a walk-on-to-all-american story, the season is a waste if either of these guys has to play meaningful minutes.  

Prediction:  Smith throws for 4,350 yards and 33 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, leading WVU to a 10-2 record and Big East championship.

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