MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The suspense that precedes West Virginia's 2013 season will likely last until the opening kickoff.
Then the anguish might begin.
"We don't have a guy who can put it in the end zone," special teams coordinator Joe DeForest said. "That's a problem."
That's obvious. That's hard to explain, too. The NCAA shook up the rulebook last season and moved the kickoff spot up 5 yards to the kicking team's 35-yard line, but also added 5 yards to a touchback. That last part may have escaped you because the Mountaineers were pretty bad at kickoffs last season.
They were actually one of the worst. Out of 120 FBS teams, WVU was No. 87 in average kickoff distance (59.86 yards) and No. 95 in the percentage of kickoffs that were touchbacks (24.73).
"The rule should have helped us," DeForest said.
Touchbacks aren't guaranteed. Only 20 players managed touchbacks on at least half of their kicks last season. Many returners are so dynamic that they're emboldened, whether by confidence or the coach's command, to return any kick that can be caught.
But now only eight days away from the season opener at home against William & Mary, DeForest is preparing for, though in no way accepting, the reality it might not be better in 2013.
"You've got to be creative with your coverage unit," he said. "We're still trying to develop a guy, still trying to find a guy, but now you've got to work on hang time because you're not going to get touchbacks."
Directional kicks to a corner of the field or sky kicks that give players extra tenths of a second to get through the blocking can help, but it's not ideal. Teams have enough depth now to have gifted kickoff return men and talented players blocking. Coaches give returns enough time in practice to make a difference in a game.
The best weapon is a big foot that sends the ball deep into the end zone. Despite scholarships sprinkled across special teams, the Mountaineers don't have one.
Well, not one they can use.
Josh Lambert, for example, can do it. He is also WVU's place kicker and DeForest doesn't want to jeopardize that part of the team.
"Our drop off is so dramatic from Josh to our next field goal kicker that you're taking a chance with Josh and wearing him down with kickoffs," DeForest said. "You've got to measure where you put your risk-reward at."