Alabama Crimson Tide: West Virginia Mountaineers

Editor's note: We're taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

Alabama vs. West Virginia, Aug. 30 in Atlanta, 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)

The rundown
2013 overall record: 4-8
2013 Big 12 record: 2-7, eighth in the Big 12
Record all time against Alabama: N/A
Last meeting: N/A

Starters returning
Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
WR Mario Alford, CB Travis Bell, S Karl Joseph, RB Wendell Smallwood, QB Clint Trickett, CB Daryl Worley

Key losses
WR Ronald Carswell, S Darwin Cook, C Pat Eger, RT Curt Feigt, RB Charles Sims

2013 statistical leaders (*-returners)
Rushing: Sims (1,095 yards)
Passing: Trickett* (1,605 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT)
Receiving: Daikiel Shorts (495 yards)
Tackles: Nick Kwiatkoski* (86)
Sacks: Will Clarke (6)
Interceptions: Cook (4)

What they're saying
"I'm excited to play against Alabama. That'll be fun, especially for a running back. I just can't wait to go against one of the top defenses in college football. It'll be exciting to just go out there and play our ass off.” -- Mountaineers running back Dustin Garrison, to reporters this spring.

Three things to watch

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIFormer Florida State QB Clint Trickett is listed as the starter for West Virginia after spring practice.
1. Quarterback battle: Trickett was listed as the Mountaineers' starting quarterback in the post-spring depth chart. (Alabama fans, don’t be jealous of such things.) But Trickett, who some will remember from his time at Florida State, has Paul Millard and transfer Skyler Howard nipping at his heels. Though he’ll likely start under center for West Virginia in Atlanta, Alabama’s defense should be prepared for all options, notably Howard, who can extend plays and scramble for yards, as evidenced by his 343 yards and five touchdowns rushing in junior college last season.

2. New-look defense: High-scoring shootouts have been the M.O. for West Virginia in years past. But after finishing next to last in the league in scoring defense (33.3 points per game), coordinator Keith Patterson left for Arizona State. In response, Dana Holgorsen lifted safeties coach Tony Gibson into the vacant position and brought on former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. And judging by the Mountaineers’ spring, their effect has been noticeable. Worley has grabbed headlines with his play and the secondary as a whole has showed promise. But the real test will come to the front seven in Atlanta. Three of four starters return at linebacker, but only one starter returns on the defensive line, which doesn’t bode well against a downhill running team like the Tide.

3. Ground game: West Virginia’s running game could be among the deepest and most versatile in the Big 12 next season. Losing Sims, an All-Big 12 back, was indeed a setback, but considering the depth at the position, it shouldn’t be a problem. The team’s post-spring depth chart is a testament to that, listing five players at running back as opposed to the usual two at every other position. Former No. 1 junior college running back Dreamius Smith is the favorite to start. He’s joined in the backfield by Smallwood, who was a steady presence as a freshman last season; Rushel Shell, a former blue-chip recruit who transferred from Pittsburgh; Garrison, who was the team’s leading rusher in 2011; and Andrew Buie, who led the team in rushing in 2012 but spent last season away from the team.
CLIFTON, Va. -- Five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle, No. 10 in the ESPN 300, will not be making an early commitment, that much has been known from the start. What is also known about Settle is that he intends to go through the entire process and take all five of his official visits.

What wasn’t known is that Settle has started to think about what schools will make the cut.

“I’m going to trim it down in August to 14,” said Settle, who earned an invitation to The Opening Saturday after a stellar performance at the Nike Football Training Camp at Centreville High School in Clifton, Va. “The reason I’m going to trim it down in August is two-a-days and getting ready for the season. I don’t want a lot of pressure on me. I just want to play and have fun my senior season.

3-point stance: Texas two-step

March, 11, 2014
1. Duane Akina became the seventh assistant from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas to get another job when Stanford hired him as secondary coach. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, the two highest-paid assistants, remain on the market. One interesting note: Most coaching contracts see to it that a fired coach gets the agreed-upon amount. If he is hired elsewhere for less than that amount, the first school makes up the difference. Not Texas. If you take another job, Texas is done.

2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”

3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.

Early Offer: 2015 begins now 

February, 7, 2014
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: The ink was barely dry on the letters of intent for 2014 class when one of the best for the 2015 class came off the board; and what schools and recruiters have jumped out of the gate with success with players that won’t sign for another 360-plus days.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Early Offer: Malone’s big day 

December, 4, 2013
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Josh Malone, one of the nation’s best receivers, will announce his decision today, so will he be singing Rocky Top, calling the Dawgs or heading to Clemson? In-home visits are taking place all over the country and social media is providing us with an inside look at life on the trail; and we’re less than a week away from finding out where the top player in Pennsylvania will end up.

Will Rocky Top be home sweet home?
Four-star receiver Josh Malone, the nation’s No. 48 player out of Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp, has already signed financial aid agreements with Tennessee, Georgia, Clemson and Florida State, but he will announce his decision at noon ET Wednesday on NBC Sports Network. The RecruitingNation Hot Board has Malone projected to select Tennessee. The Volunteers were smart and were the first to use the signing of the financial aid paperwork as a tool in the recruiting process. Because he was technically “signed” UT coaches were able to have regular contact with him. Shortly after, the three other schools followed suit.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

1. Given the tenor of the times, the suspension of Alabama defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will cast a dimmer light on the NCAA than on the player. The Tuscaloosa News reported that Clinton-Dix took a loan of less than $500 from assistant strength coach Corey Harris during the summer and repaid it before the season. The bottom line is that Clinton-Dix and Harris knew the rules and ignored them. But the small amount of money, and the fact that it was a one-time transaction, highlight how the needs of student-athletes are not being met.

2. West Virginia's upset of Oklahoma State provided a ray of hope in Morgantown as the Mountaineers prepare to play at No. 17 Baylor, which is 15-1 at home since the beginning 2011. It's no coincidence that the struggles of the Mountaineers coincide with the departure of top recruiter Doc Holliday to become head coach of Marshall three years ago. Holliday is well-known for his ability to recruit in Florida, where the Mountaineers found quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Stedman Bailey. They left last season, and no one as talented has appeared to replace them.

3. The disappearance of tough intersectional games has led to grade inflation at the football stadium. I looked at the Week 6 AP poll for each of the last 10 seasons. From 2004-11, the average number of undefeated teams is a shade under 14. Last season, 18 teams made it to Week 6 without a blemish. This season, it's 17. It must be the disappearance of tough intersectional games. Let's hope that nine-game conference schedules and the College Football Playoff force teams to play up, and do it earlier.

Bama watching ESPN 300 LB James 

June, 25, 2013
Four-star Springfield (Ohio) High School outside linebacker Davonte James does not get the same publicity as some of his fellow ESPN 300 members, but he has caught the eye of one of the nation’s elite programs.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four-star receiver Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) was set to choose from his final four schools at the end of May. The second-ranked prospect in Indiana was heading south to Alabama, Florida State, Tennessee or Vanderbilt.

Dominique Booth
Chantel Jennings/ESPN.comFour-star wide receiver Dominique Booth is the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Indiana.
Booth postponed his decision, but that does not mean he is fully opening up his recruitment again.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

It’s early in the process for sophomore athlete Eric Glover-Williams (Canton, Ohio/McKinley), but some schools are starting sticking out.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Instead of going to the beach for spring break, ESPN Watch List wide receiver Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) spent his break visiting interested colleges across the southeast and east coast. His first stop was to the University of Alabama.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Alabama’s courtship of receiver Derek Kief all happened fast, first making contact last week, followed by an offer on Thursday. So what's next for the Cincinnati La Salle receiver?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ATHENS, Ga. -- ESPN Watch List wide receiver Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek) recently cut his mammoth offer list down to a top-15 group of schools that he will consider.

“It got crazy at one point with almost everybody that offered me trying to talk to me,” Kitt said. “So I had to cut my list down to 15 schools. After spring practice I will cut it down to eight or 10. At the end of summer I will do five and then go from there.”

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Watch List WR talks Bama, Cristobal hire 

February, 19, 2013
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- On Monday, Alabama fans learned that Mario Cristobal will be their new offensive line coach. The hire should help the Crimson Tide’s chances with ESPN Watch List wide receiver Jake McCrary (Miami/Coral Reef), who knew Cristobal from his days as head coach at Florida International and more recently from his stint at Miami.

“Coach Cristobal, he’s a great coach,” McCrary said. “He was over at FIU and turned that program around. He was at Miami for a short time. That’s when I really started to know him a little better.

“A better offer came on the table, and he took the best job that was for him, the Alabama job. I’m happy for him, and I think that will help Alabama a lot more because he’s a local guy, and he could get the local kids up there to Alabama.”

The 2014 class has a number of talented recruits from Miami and the surrounding areas.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Wilton Speight impresses in workout 

February, 3, 2013
After a personal workout, Wilton Speight could be days away from his first scholarship offer.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Decision looms for David Knevel 

December, 17, 2012
It’s decision time for 2013 offensive lineman David Knevel. The Canadian lineman will announce his commitment at his high school Tuesday morning. He’s narrowed his list to three schools -- Alabama, Nebraska and West Virginia.

According to his father, Mark Miller, Knevel will choose where he feels the most comfortable.

“He’s been talking back and forth with all of these coaches since the summer,” Miller said. “All these schools, the ones he’s down to, he feels he can play with their system and everything, but I think it’s going to come down to more comfort, that type of thing.”

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider


Scout's Take: Atlanta Opening Regional
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss top performers from the Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta.