West Virginia has received nearly all the attention as the Mountaineers enter the Champs Sports Bowl against North Carolina State today. The changes the program has made ushering in Oklahoma State’s Dana Holgersen as offensive coordinator, and coach-in-waiting, warranted national attention. Meanwhile, Tom O’Brien engineered his finest season to date with the Wolfpack (8-4). Both teams have underachieved in recent history according to the talent present on each roster, but it makes for a more interesting game in 2010.

3 Keys from Scouts

1 Surveying the land. The Wolfpack must be completely aware of the situation its opponents present. West Virginia and its coaching staff will be looking to make a positive impression during its transition, and they have the weapons to do as such. Nate Irving is the leader and top tackler for North Carolina State. He will look across the line of scrimmage and see running back Noel Devine, who will be as healthy as he has been all season. The back’s explosiveness should be improved tremendously getting rest for his injured foot will make defending the zone read troublesome. Quarterback Geno Smith is not the same type of runner previously seen in Morgantown, but he can sling the football. Receiver Jock Sanders is a dangerous underneath route runner. All of these play a factor as the Wolfpack line up each and every play.

2 Getting defensive. These two teams quietly have two of the best defensive units in the nation. West Virginia is ranked third in the nation in yards surrendered per game. They have talent along all three lines of their fluid 3-3-5 scheme, particularly Chris Neild at the nose and Robert Sands at safety. Although, one of the draft’s top corners, Brandon Hogan, will miss the game due to a knee injury. North Carolina State  is not as well rounded but is still tough against the run finishing 12th against opposing teams’ ground attacks during the regular season. The Wolfpack has had its struggles against the pass this season.

3 Secret weapon. One name not previously mentioned regarding the Mountaineer defense was Bruce Irvin. The former junior college transfer is a nightmare off the edge for opposing quarterbacks. His 12 sacks are the fourth best total in major college football, despite limited repetitions. He is 235 pounds and lightning fast off the edge. A better speed rush cannot be found. Meanwhile, North Carolina State’s offense is a one-trick pony based around the talents of Russell Wilson. If the Wolfpack cannot stay ahead of the chains, then Wilson will have Irvin in his lap all afternoon.

Bold Prediction. This is a statement game for current WVU head man, Bill Stewart, as he is being forced out after next season. The Mountaineers have legit BCS caliber talent along its roster, but stumbled along the way in 2010. That talent and a stifling defense will prove too much for the North Carolina State. West Virginia 35, North Carolina State 14.

Pro-Prospect Preview

North Carolina State

Round Full Name Pos Num Yr Comments
4th Nate Irving OLB 56 5Sr Athletic linebacker who makes plays sideline-to-sideline and gets depth on drops. Really did a nice job returning from the injuries which put him on the sidelines in 2009.
4-5 George Bryan TE 84 4Jr Athletic, pass catching tight end developing a complete game.
FA Owen Spencer WR 13 4Sr Consistent wide out coming off a career season. Flashes big play ability.
FA Audie Cole OLB 42 4Jr Consistent linebacker constantly around the ball making positive plays.
FA Michael Lemon DE 94 5Sr Solid college pass rusher who shows flashes.

West Virginia

Round Full Name Pos Num Yr Comments
3rd Robert Sands S 2 3Jr Imposing looking safety still a year away. Immense upside.  About 50/50 as to whether or not he’ll enter the draft.
3rd Julian Miller DE 94 4Jr Terrific college pass rusher developing at a very fast rate. Has terrific upside and a player to watch.
3-4 Brandon Hogan CB 22 4Sr Solid cornerback with an upside but also a lot of baggage.. Plays with good mechanics, works well with safety’s and shuts down opponents. Former receiver still learning the position.  Tore an ACL and will be out for months.  Injury could push him into the late rounds.
4-5 Josh Jenkins G 77 3Jr Strong, small area blocker.
5th Noel Devine RB 7 4Sr Quick, scat-back who gets lost behind his blockers, weaves through the traffic and creates yardage. Undersized and more of a situational runner.
5-6 Jock Sanders WR 9 4Sr Tiny ball handler who also excels in all areas of a skill player. Situational player in the NFL but has a place at the next level.
7-FA Scooter Berry DT 93 5Sr Two-gap lineman that plays end in a 3-4. Solid athlete who moves well and makes plays in all direction. Needs to improve his strength a bit yet a decent upside.
7-FA Chris Neild DT 90 5Sr Underrated zero technique lineman that’s really caught the eye of NFL scouts. Does not possess the great upside yet gets the most from his ability.
FA J.T. Thomas OLB 30 5Sr Explosive one-gap linebacker who makes plays in every direction of the field. Plays bigger than his size.
FA Sidney Glover S 4 4Sr Solid college defensive back that has the skills to play in dime situations at the next level.
FA Eric Jobe C 61 5Sr
FA Keith Tandy CB 8 4Jr
FA Patrick Lazear ILB 31 4Sr

Game Preview: Brent Sobleski

Prospect Preview:  Tony Pauline