2015 season preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Senior safety Karl Joseph brings experience and physicality to West Virginia's defense. AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Our season preview capsule for the West Virginia Mountaineers:

Most important player: S Karl Joseph. A senior who has started every game he has played at WVU, Joseph could be the conference’s hardest hitter. He has always been known for his physicality, but he has developed into a complete safety as an upperclassman. The Florida native had 92 tackles (62 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one interception as a junior. He brings experience, energy and productivity to the Mountaineers' defense.

Breakout candidate on offense: LT Yodny Cajuste. The redshirt freshman will undoubtedly have ups and downs in his first season, but Cajuste has terrific long-term upside and could become a critical piece in the Mountaineers' offensive line this fall, after emerging from the spring atop the depth chart. It could take him a while to adjust to Big 12 football, but once he does, look out.

Breakout candidate on defense: LB Xavier Preston. The Mountaineers have high hopes for the sophomore, who could break into the lineup, despite the veterans and depth at the linebacker spot. WVU has three experienced seniors in Jared Barber, Nick Kwiatkoski and Shaq Petteway, but Preston has the talent to force his way onto the field and make an impact.

Most important game: WVU’s Oct. 17 trip to Baylor comes in the midst of a tough October stretch against some of the Big 12’s best programs. The most recent time the Mountaineers played in Waco, Texas, they headed home with their tails between their legs after a 73-42 drubbing. If Dana Holgorsen’s team can go to BU and return with a win this time, it would speak volumes about how far they’ve come the past few seasons.

Class of 2015 signee to watch: The Mountaineers are finally at a point where their depth is so good they won’t have to rush an incoming recruit onto the field. One area WVU could see some younger players in action is at receiver, especially after they lost Kevin White and Mario Alford. A name that has generated a lot of buzz early is Gary Jennings, who was a signing day surprise. Jennings could play a number of different positions, but don’t be shocked if he gets serious looks at receiver. – ESPN RecruitingNation’s Jeremy Crabtree

Class of 2016 storyline: WVU continues to be aggressive throughout the Midwest and the East, areas other Big 12 teams don’t spend a lot of time recruiting. The Mountaineers’ commitment list is littered with quality players from Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The best in the bunch so far is four-star running back Martell Pettaway out of Michigan. — Crabtree

Record/season prediction: 8-4. The October stretch of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU will prove too much for this experienced West Virginia squad to force itself into Big 12 title contention. But WVU will provide a challenge for every team in the conference, and its experience will show on its way to an eight-win season.