The West Virginia has a daunting task in front of them this season. A new coach, only nine returning starters, and one of the harder schedules in the country make this season look like a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers. WVU has made bowl games the last five years, but Neal Brown will have his hands full continuing that streak.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case for this team is missing a bowl game, and not seeing much development from underclassmen and players who are returning next year.
This team has lost a lot of talent from a year ago. Only three offensive starters return and the six returning defensive starters have to learn a whole new system. Point blank, this team does not have a lot of talent, so you at least would like to see a few standouts emerge to lead the team going forward.
The quarterback position is up for grabs, but the fact that it is still a battle means neither Jack Allison nor Austin Kendall are at a high enough level to where Neal Brown thinks they’re the guy.
Once Brown gets the quarterback situation figured out, there is the slight issue on who they will be throwing to. WVU lost four high-level pass catchers to the NFL. Only TJ Simmons returns with any real experience at the college level. It doesn’t help that one of the better receiver commitments, Terrence Doston, signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. (Yes, the baseball team.)
The good news is that the run game will be solid as all four productive running backs return, and the offensive line has some all-Big 12 caliber players.
There are questions on defensive side of the ball as well. The defense will move from the 3-3-5 stack to more of a 4-2-5 scheme. The roster already has the hybrid type players that can play both safety and corner back, which is good news when it comes to the transition. Players like Josh Norwood and Keith Washington will be asked to move around the defensive backfield this year. I do think the defense will be the stronger part of this Mountaineer team, but can very well still be blown apart by some of these Big 12 offenses.
The schedule doesn’t help West Virginia either. A non-conference slate of FCS powerhouse James Madison paired with a road game at sneaky good Missouri and a home showdown with former defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and the NC State Wolfpack.
It’s a tough slate that can very easily see WVU heading into Big 12 play at 1-2. The Mountaineers also have a brutal three game stretch in November against Texas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma in Norman. I don’t see a win there. You’re now asking WVU to win five of six against the rest of the Big 12. Not making a bowl game isn’t the end of the world, but missing one without seeing progression would be the absolute worse case this season.
Best Case Scenario
This team isn’t winning ten games or the Big 12, but they have some pieces that could lead to a solid seven or eight-win season. While both Kendall and Allison are question marks with no starting experience, both are high four star recruits and didn’t make Miami and Oklahoma rosters by accident. Kendall even had 30-1 Heisman odds earlier this year before Hurts transferred to OU and Kendall left for WVU.
If whoever ends up starting can play as well as they once did, or at least people thought they would, then the Mountaineers suddenly have a solid gunslinger to lean on.
The transfer additions of former five star receiver George Campbell from Florida State and the Temple Owl’s Sean Ryan can be huge. Pair them with Simmons and a hopefully 100%-after-a-shoulder-injury Jovani Haskins, and all of a sudden there are some weapons to work with in the passing game. This can take some pressure off the run game, and allow this offense to become more balanced and more dangerous.
The defense also has the potential to be very good. Brown bringing Vic Koenning over from Troy was a very underrated move. He is a defensive coordinator who takes talent and finds ways to get that talent onto the field and produce.
The Alabama transfer Vandarius Cowan sat out last season but can hopefully fill the linebacker spot left by a graduated David Long. Charlie Benton was another linebacker who had to miss basically all of last year after suffering a season ending knee injury in the season opener vs Tennessee. It’s a long shot but there is some potential for this to be a very solid defense.
Making a bowl game depends on a lot of things going the Mountaineers way, but maybe after the collapse last season they deserve a little luck.