By Cam Huffman
Quick, name three players off of last year’s West Virginia University football team.
Easy, right? Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Now name three more.
The more casual Mountaineer fan may find this task a little more challenging.
WVU’s “Big Three” drew plenty of attention last year, but with all three now in the NFL — Smith with the New York Jets and Austin and Bailey with the St. Louis Rams — the Mountaineers will be trotting out a bunch of numbers and faces this fall unfamiliar to those who don’t follow the program closely.
That’s just fine with members of this year’s team.
While every Mountaineer enjoyed watching the offensive fireworks last year, most believe that the lack of a true superstar on this year’s roster could actually improve the team chemistry — even if it makes the replica jerseys a little tougher to sell.
“The team’s closer this year, because we don’t have any superstars,” said junior offensive lineman Quinton Spain earlier this week at Big 12 Media Days. “The three people we counted on last year got drafted and left. So now we have to do a lot of things as a team. We’ve got to pull together.
“The whole summer session was about team. There are no individuals.”
Replacing that production, though, won’t be easy. Smith left as the school’s all-time leading passer, and he threw for 4,205 yards and 42 touchdowns as a senior. Austin caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards, and Bailey turned his 114 catches into 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Numbers like that just don’t happen every year.
“It’s going to be challenging,” admitted Spain, a 6-foot-5, 335-pound monster from Petersburg, Va. “But the coaches brought people in for a reason.
“Last year, people already knew who had the spots. This year, nobody knows who’s starting. So there’s competition out there. That makes for a better team.”
Spain said nobody cares who gets the credit, as long as the final result is better than the 7-6 season the Mountaineers experienced during their first run through the Big 12.
“Our whole mindset is to win,” he said. “We’re the underdog, and we want to prove everybody wrong.”
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Mountaineer fans in Beckley and surrounding areas will continue to hear the sounds of WVU football, basketball and more on their radios thanks to a new deal between IMG and ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket. The station, WMTD-FM in Hinton, has signed on to be a part of the new Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG.
“ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket is pleased to present another year of Mountaineer sports to southern West Virginia in association with IMG,” said Shane Southern, the owner of WMTD-FM. “Mountaineer fans are raring to go, and so are we as kickoff approaches.”
The station will carry WVU football and men’s basketball, the respective coaches shows and a daily report.
WVU and IMG College recently formed a 12-year multimedia rights and sponsorship partnership that will begin with the 2013-14 season.
IMG announced Friday that it plans to eventually add four hours of pre- and post-game coverage. Pregame shows will expand from one hour to three-and-a-half hours, while postgame shows will be two hours, instead of 30 minutes.
Details on the play-by-play and color commentary team will be released at a later date, according to a release from WVU.
“IMG College is thrilled to bring to fans Mountaineer football on our network and want to welcome ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket to the IMG family,” said Joe Potter, IMG’s senior vice president of operations. “We’re very excited about building our affiliate base and expanding Mountaineer programming for one of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in college sports.”
WVU and IMG also announced Friday that WRLF-FM and WTCS-AM in Fairmont will be part of the new network.
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According to CBSSports.com, WVU is close to finalizing a home-and-home football series with old rival Penn State. The series is expected to start in or after 2020.
The two schools, just 160 miles apart, first played in 1904 and played every year from 1947 until 1992. It’s been more than 20 years, though, since the schools last met on the gridiron.
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Although nothing official has been released from either school, it appears former Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell will be switching to the enemy colors.
After a visit to WVU on Monday, Shell told ESPN.com Friday that he will be transferring to join the Mountaineers, choosing WVU over Kentucky.
He’ll have to sit out the 2013 season but will have three years of eligibility remaining.
As a true freshman last year, Shell led the Panthers in rushing. He finished his career at Hopewell High School in Aliquippa, Pa., as the state’s all-time leading rusher with 9,078 yards.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.