West Virginia Mountaineers No. 7 in ESPN Preseason Football Poll

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIJanuary 14, 2012

Orange Bowl Champion West Virginia returns nine offensive and seven defensive starters in 2012.
Orange Bowl Champion West Virginia returns nine offensive and seven defensive starters in 2012.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

West Virginia is ranked No. 7 in Mark Schlabach's ESPN 2012 preseason football poll, five spots higher than CBS ranked them in their preseason poll.

Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Top 25 has LSU, USC and Alabama in the top three spots, Oregon, Oklahoma and Georgia Nos. 4-6, and West Virginia at No. 7.

Florida State, Michigan State and South Carolina fill out the top 10.

The Mountaineers return nine offensive and seven defensive starters from 2011's Orange Bowl Champion. WVU (10-3) put on quite an offensive display when they beat ACC Champion Clemson 70-33 in their Jan. 4th meeting.

QB Geno Smith threw six touchdown passes in this game, WR Tavon Austin caught four. Both return for their senior seasons. Both could be Heisman Trophy candidates in 2012.

In 2011 Smith threw for 4385 yards, fourth among all quarterbacks and Rivals rated Austin the nation's No. 1  kick returner.  He also caught 100 passes last season.

The Mountaineers also bring back their leading rusher, Dustin Garrison, and their other top WR Stedman Bailey.

Schlabach might have ranked the Mountaineers even higher, but he was concerned that they might lose their defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Since Schlabach released his poll, Casteel did accept a position with former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.

It's unclear if WVU will play football next year in the Big 12 or remain a member of the Big East.

Both parties have filed suits against the other in separate courts. Both courts denied motions to dismiss the suits.

On Wednesday, ESPN reported that a Rhode Island judge ordered the two to mediation, scheduled to start on Feb 9.