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West Virginia Mountaineers Football 2014: 5 Questions for Spring Practice

Spring football practices kick off this weekend in Morgantown.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Following an abysmal 4-8 season fans are anxious to see if WVU can turn it around and get back to a respectable bowl game in 2014. Fans will get their first taste of Mountaineer football on Sunday as WVU commences spring practice for the upcoming season. Heading into the 2014 campaign there are 5 questions the answers to which may determine the outcome of next season:

1. Will Skyler Howard raise the level of competition at quarterback?

More consistent quarterback play will go a long way tohelping WVU make it back to a bowl game. Coach Holgorsen recently confirmedthat Clint Trickett will be out for Spring ball, and highly touted recruit William Crest does not arrive until the fall meaning reps will be split between newcomer Skyler Howard and Paul Millard.

Fans were able to witness the performance of Trickett and Millard last season, but the only idea fans have of Howard's ability is from his highlight videos from JUCO ball. Spring practices will allow the fans and coaches to get their first taste of whether Howard can be the answer to WVU's quarterback woes, either by pushing Millard and Trickett to take it to the next level, or by taking the reigns himself.

2. Will Pitt's loss be WVU's gain?

Before last season WVU received a commitment from Pitt transfer Rushel Shell. Shell was highly touted coming out of high school with offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Ohio State and Oregon among others, and had a solid freshman year at Pitt rushing for over 600 yards and four rushing touchdowns before deciding to transfer at the conclusion of his freshman campaign. The WVU coaches have described Shell as going from "pudgy to punishing" since his arrival, and his addition to an already deep backfield should allow WVU to have solid a running game to take pressure off an uncertain quarterback situation.

3. Will the WVU defense rise to the occasion?

WVU's defense showed promise early last season before falling off later in the season due to a rash of injuries. The defensive performance in the early part of last season displayed an aggressive attitude that was certainly lacking from the lackluster 2012 campaign. Four coordinators in four years is probably not the best recipe for success, but it appears the potential is there for a step in the right direction. In order to improve over the team's 4-8 mark from last year the defense will need to provide timely stops and extra opportunities for the offense.

4. How will Tom Bradley's influence be felt?

Bradley's hire was widely viewed as a successful coup for WVU. Bradley coached up some of Penn State's better defenses and his experience should provide a steadying influence on the team and the coaching staff. This WVU team is likely to face some adversity as it traverses the rough roads of the Big 12 and any calming influence Bradley can bring could be helpful in allowing the team to weather those storms.

5. Excitement around the program - will local practices help?

With attendance dipping last year, two consecutive seasons where expectations have failed to be met in Morgantown, and an upcoming season where the expectations are below what are normal for WVU football, Holgorsen needs to be providing the fans with opportunities to get excited about WVU football again. The latest recruiting class and the current crop of commitments for 2015 appear to be providing some optimism among the fan base for the future, butgiven the state of affairs Holgorsen needs to provide a more immediate reason to get jacked up.

To that end, Coach Holgorsen is opening up 4 of the 15 spring practices to the public and taking the show on the road around the state giving WVU fans who reside near Wheeling and Charleston a chance to get a glimpse of the team WVU is putting together for 2014. While these practices are not likely to show too much they at least afford an opportunity for fans to get invested in the 2014 team in ways that have not been there for the fans in the past.