We come to the last of our schedule preview series. I can honestly say that I kept West Virginia till last not only because we went by alphabetical order, but because they are the biggest mysteries to me.
A 10-3 season left Dana Holgorsen’s seat decidedly cooler than this time last year. However, mumblings and grumblings were heard after the Mountaineers lost to both Oklahoma teams, and a dismal showing against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl. It was a dismal let down to what was shaping up to be a special season.
Still, 10 wins is nothing to sneeze at. And, we know from super special secret sources that coach Holgorsen has had more than a few Red Bull-fueled nights and days working to fix the issues that showed up during the OSU, OU, and Miami games. Or, we completely made up that fact.
The truth is Holgorsen has steadily built a contender in Morgantown.
Last season, they entered with questions on the defensive side of the ball. Turns out, the defense was never the issue. Holgorsen has done a fantastic job in staggering recruiting needs in classes and the juniors and seniors that were starting for the first time stepped up to the challenge.
Instead, the issues were with the offense. Which is somewhat surprising given that coach Holgorsen is a bit of an offensive guru. But, QB Skyler Howard never outgrew his mistake prone ways, and up and down play cost them at the end of the season.
Skyler Howard has since graduated, and in his place is Florida transfer Will Grier. Grier was last seen giving defenses in the SEC headaches. However, his lone season at Florida was cut short due to a failed drug test for performance enhancing drugs. Grier was reportedly taking Ligandrol (also known as LGD-4033) which is an oral steroid. Somewhat shocking considering bulking up can inhibit a person’s throwing motion; the exact opposite of what a quarterback would want.
Grier has served his time, and now looks to provide stability for West Virginia under center, but there are new questions the Mountaineers must answer. The O-line, that did a fantastic job protecting Howard and paving the way for 1,000 yard rushers the past few seasons, has to be rebuilt. Not to mention the Mountaineers lose eight starters on defense. And, unlike the 2016 season where there was some rebuilding, WVU has said goodbye to the entire starting defensive line. If they can answer those questions, the Mountaineers will be a dark horse to win the Big 12 once again.
West Virginia’s 2017 Schedule
SEP 3 – Virginia Tech
SEP 9 – East Carolina
SEP 16 – Delaware St
SEP 23 – at Kansas
OCT 7 – at TCU
OCT 14 – Texas Tech
OCT 21 – at Baylor
OCT 28 – Oklahoma State
NOV 4 – Iowa State
NOV 11 – at Kansas State
NOV 18 – Texas
NOV 25 – at Oklahoma
Looking at the schedule, West Virginia has the second biggest opener in the Big 12. Virginia Tech is no slouch and won 10 games themselves last year. Other marquee games include Oklahoma State in Morgantown and then road games against Kansas State and Oklahoma. For West Virginia to go from dark horse to conference champion it will need to take at least three of these games.
Using our probable loss, 50/50-ish, and probable wins formula let’s break down the schedule.
The probable wins are pretty easy to point out. East Carolina has suffered since it lost Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma and booting Ruffin McNeal to the curb. While last year they won over power five opponent NC State, they got smoked by just about everybody else. They gave up 30+ points eight times. While there is trap game potential, look for WVU to run a vanilla offense after a bruising match with Virginia Tech.
Of course, Delaware State also falls into this category. WVU is not exactly doing some heavy lifting here.
Conference wise, I am going to also put Kansas, Texas Tech, and Baylor as probable wins as well. If I have to explain why Kansas is here then you have a lot to learn about football. Texas Tech got smoked to the tune of 48-17 last season, and that was with Patrick Mahomes II under center. Even if the Mountaineer’s defense is not as good as last year, it will still be better than Tech’s.
In a surprise, last year Baylor played West Virginia close in the final game of the season in 2016 barely losing 24-21. In 2017 WVU goes to McLane Stadium in the middle of the season. The Bears are a conundrum, and this game might be a little tougher than we think, but this should wind up in the “W” column for the couch lighters in Morgantown.
In the 50/50-ish category are Iowa State, TCU, Texas and Virginia Tech.
Whoa, I can already hear you screaming, “Iowa State! They went 3-9 last year!” Calm down, and let me explain.
Before we talk about the Iowa State game though, the Mountaineers will have their work cut out for them in the battle for the Black Diamond Trophy; especially with this being the first game of the season. Obviously, anything can happen in a rivalry game, which is why it’s a 50/50 game. The Big 12 really needs West Virginia to pull off the upset and win this game with all eyes watching. And even though the Mountaineers will have to answer some questions is a hurry, they should have a decent shot of pulling off the win.
Okay, now let’s talk about Iowa State. WVU has a lot of unknowns, new QB, new offensive coordinator, Holgorsen not calling plays, and a defensive rebuild. Iowa State on the other hand, is returning a lot of its core and is trending upward by all accounts. Campbell is doing good things in the land of corn. Plus this game falls in November. I fully expect Iowa State to be a different team than we saw last year. Maybe I am overestimating ISU. Maybe I am underestimating WVU. However, I do not see how you can slip this game into the probable win category. To be fair, ESPN is projecting WVU to have a 73 percent chance to win this game…their fifth and last win of the season.
TCU is the other legitimate dark horse in the Big 12. While the offense seems to still be struggling with Kenny Hill under center, the defense looks to have returned to form and Gary Patterson’s standards. What makes this match-up so fun is that we get two teams with defensive schemes specifically built to stop spread offenses. TCU runs a 4-2-5 while West Virginia runs a 3-3-5. This game should be required watching just from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Oh, and to balance out the Iowa State 50/50 call, ESPN’s FPI gives WVU just a 16 percent chance to win this game.
Texas falls into this category because it is the complete and utter mystery of the Big 12. UT is everything WVU is not. The biggest program in the biggest pond, able to get just about anybody it wants. That alone means Texas has a fighter’s chance in every game. However, WVU just seems to want it more and has had a better recent history of developing talent.
That brings us to probable losses. Here we find the three preseason conference favorites, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma.
West Virginia beat Kansas State last year in a scoring contest seen more with our neighbors to the East (17-16). But, whereas WVU is rebuilding Kansas State is built. Expect a low scoring affair just because that is how K-State rolls. However, no team should consider Kansas State to be an automatic win during Snyder’s last season working miracles.
Before the Russel Athletic Bowl, it was joked that if the state of Oklahoma was launched into space, West Virginia would have been undefeated. Both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are legitimate contenders; not only for winning the conference but also making the College Football Playoffs. With so much uncertainty on how this West Virginia team will look these games look more like losses than wins.
The schedule is also against WVU here. While the Mountaineers get the Cowboys in Mulan-Puskar Stadium, they have to travel on the road to Manhattan and Norman. All three of these games will also occur in the second half of the season when these teams will be looking to finish magical seasons in their own right.
West Virginia is as much a dark horse as it is an unknown. But, with so many question marks, we cannot slot them into a conference favorite slot before the season begins. Overall, the schedule sets up for a nice run as their tougher games aren’t back-to-back and they will ease into them as the season goes on. Regardless, it should be a great year, and the Mountaineers will have an opportunity to answer a lot of questions early. We just have to wait until August.