We’re only about a month out from the end of bowl season, but teams all across the Big 12 are getting ready to go back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills will once gain be the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear to go through practices.
It’s time for us to turn our attention to what those practices might mean. We’ll give a preview of each team in the conference and explore the questions they’ll try to answer in the coming weeks.
Up first is a team that’s starting to receive some buzz, the West Virginia Mountaineers. They begin practices next week.
PRACTICE BEGINS: Tuesday, February 27th
SPRING GAME DATE: Saturday, April 7th
LOCATION: Milan Puskar Stadium (Morgantown, WV)
There’s talk of West Virginia competing for a Big 12 championship in 2018, but are the Mountaineers on their way? What questions do they need to answer over the next month to feel better about their chances?
One area that’s already taken care of is quarterback.
With the exodus of offensive talent from the Big 12, West Virginia has good reason to believe they might be playing for a conference trophy in ten months. The crucial piece needed to get there – a top shelf signal caller – appears to be in place with Heisman hopeful Will Grier. He’ll have receivers to throw to in Biletnikoff runner-up David Sills and conference standout Gary Jennings.
Be sure to keep your eye on the tight end position, however, which the coaching staff wants to be a bigger part of the scheme in 2018. Miami transfer Javoni Haskins is one to look out for there. He’s been in Morgantown almost a year, so now could be his time to shine.
Running back is a bit of a mystery, but Dana Holgorsen brought on two new coaches this offseason who might be of help there: Holgorsen promoted offensive analyst Dan Gerberry to work with tight ends and hired Marquel Blackwell from Toledo to come in and coach running backs.
Holgorsen has in the past faced a lot of turnover on his staff, so his squad enters 2018 with a degree of continuity, something that can only benefit the guys in the trenches. Speaking of which, West Virginia could end up having the best offensive line in the Big 12, but there’s still some development needed in the interior.
Talent can be found on the edges, but offensive line coach Joe Wickline has to find an answer at guard to replace the departed Kyle Bosch. Senior Isaiah Hardy is the likely starter, but the position is up for grabs.
Still, the first priority for the Mountaineers has to be fixing the defense. Last year’s performance was probably the worst by a Tony Gibson-coached unit in Morgantown, as West Virginia dropped to 90th in scoring defense.
Defensive line may have been the culprit. It was the youngest and arguably most inconsistent unit on the team in 2018, but could be solid if they add some strength and size. Developing reliable backups to provide relief in a high-octane, offensive conference will be critical.
So too will help on the back end. The Mountaineers brought in a couple of three star cornerbacks from the JUCO ranks to help shore up the secondary in Keith Washington and Joshua Norwood. If either one of those guys can step up during spring football, that would be good news for the Mountaineers heading forward.
Another hole to fill will be middle linebacker, where the highly recruited Brendan Ferns is the likely name to takeover. He’s a third year player who has suffered from injury, but replacing the departed Al-Rasheed Benton will be no small task.
All in all, there seems to be enough critical pieces in place for the Mountaineers to achieve some lofty goals in 2018. Before booking hotel rooms in Arlington, though, they will need to find some serious contributors at a number of positions.