As people fill out their office brackets and begin monitoring baseball scores on the sly, it’s easy to forget that college football players across the Big 12 are kicking back into gear for spring workouts. All the teams in the conference, in fact, have already started practices.
When those teams commence their NCAA-sanctioned workouts, each Big 12 squad will try to find answers to its respective questions over the course of about a month.
As things ramp up, we’ve been looking into what positions will be up for grabs. Up next are the West Virginia Mountaineers, who began practices this week.
It’s not often that a football program loses their coach after an 8-4 season, but the Mountaineers might not skip a beat on the football field.
That’s because they went out and hired Neal Brown from Troy, who went 31-8 in his last three years with the Trojans. Previous to his hire at West Virginia, Brown was thought to be a rising star in the FBS ranks.
He’ll take the leap to the Power Five level at West Virginia, a school that expects to excel on the gridiron every year.
Brown’s biggest challenge will be dealing with the Mountaineers’ loss of some of their best offensive talent in years. Yet, it’s not like the cache of talent has been emptied out in Morgantown.
PRACTICE BEGINS: TUE, March 19
SPRING GAME: SAT, April 13
LOCATION: Milan Puskar Stadium (Morgantown, WV)
Quarterback stands out as the position needing the most attention. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall will battle for the spot alongside Jack Allison and Trey Lowe. Allison has the most experience of the three signal callers, but his lone start in West Virginia’s bowl loss last December might not give him much of an advantage.
The running back room, on the other hand, will be stacked. Kennedy McKoy is a senior and enters spring as the most heralded player on offense. Martell Pettaway and two other backups return as well to make this the deepest position group on the team.
Along the offensive line, the Mountaineers have to replace two starters, but they will likely be a strong unit in 2019. Junior Josh Sills and senior Colton McKivitz are back, and project to be two of the best offensive linemen in the Big 12.
Marcus Simms is the only starting pass catcher to come back on offense. The Mountaineers seem to always have up-and-coming talent at that position, and many of them will surely get their chance to impress Neal Brown’s staff.
On defense, they will have to identify replacements for couple of departed lineman up front. Senior Reese Donahue is back there, however, and there are backups who logged significant minutes in 2018.
Still, the new defensive staff will have some other veterans to work with as they implement a new scheme. JoVanni Stewart and Dylan Tonkery are upperclassmen who bring starting experience to West Virginia’s linebacker corps.
The most settled position group might be the defensive backfield, where West Virginia returns safety Kenny Robinson, Jr. and both cornerbacks.
Overall, the Mountaineers, who were in the midst of the Big 12 championship hunt late in the season last year, look to be prepared to perform at a high level once again. At the same time, it’s not a given that the transition to a new coaching staff will go smoothly. This spring will be crucial West Virginia, then, as they take this first big step of the Neal Brown era.