The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 11th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 15 West Virginia Mountaineers.
A 7-6 season was the result of 2017 season for the Mountaineers, but they are looking ahead to a better 2018 season. They lost their starting quarterback for the end of the season last year and definitely struggled without him. There is reason to suspect that West Virginia can win big in 2018 with their returning players and schedule.
The offense was solid once again under Dana Holgorsen last season. They ranked 22nd in scoring, 83rd in rushing and 13th in passing in 2017. They likely would have ranked higher in most of those categories had they stayed healthy at the quarterback position. With the amount of talent returning on this side of the ball, West Virginia will be a high-powered offense once again.
The aforementioned quarterback, Will Grier, is back for his senior season in Morgantown. He lit up the scoreboard for West Virginia with 3,490 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. With a full season, those numbers should improve. Grier will be one of the best quarterbacks in the country for 2018.
David Sills V and Gary Jennings are both good receivers for Grier. Sills V is one of the best red zone threats in the game with 18 touchdowns. Jennings had 97 receptions for 1,096 yards as a good possession receiver. They’ll be without Ka’Raun White from last season, but have a big play threat in Marcus Simms. They’ll have a wide variety of different targets at the wide receiver position.
The running game will be less effective this year, as the passing game is the focal point of the offense. West Virginia lost Justin Crawford at running back, but get back Kennedy McKoy. McKoy will need to be more effective on a per carry basis, as he only averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He did pick up some yardage though at 596 for the season.
Yodny Cajuste is back at left tackle for the Mountaineers as one of the best in the conference. With three other starters back, West Virginia’s offensive line will be great. They’ll need to be great in order to keep Grier on the field and keep the offense moving.
Having Grier and Sills V back will make this offense a top-10 unit in the country.
The defense did not perform well last season. With such a good offense, they only need to get a few stops per game to help the team win games. They ranked 90th in points per game allowed, 103rd against the run and 90th against the pass. Only five starters are back on this side of the ball, but if they can turn the ball over more, the Mountaineers can win a lot of football games this season.
Reese Donahue is the only returnee from a three-man defensive front. He had six tackles for loss and one sack last season. They lost a lot of depth with players leaving the program, so Ezekiel Rose and Darius Stills will have to produce.
Two starters are back at linebacker in Dylan Tonkery and David Long Jr. Long Jr. will be a breakout star and had 75 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, one sack, three interceptions, four passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. These players will have to lead the charge to create a better defense in 2018.
The secondary has Dravon Askew-Henry and Kenny Robinson returning at safety. With those two, and Toyous Avery, the safety position is solid. Cornerback is another issue. They do have Big Ten transfers waiting in the wings at corner, but they may not start. Only time will tell if the corners on this team can compete.
The defense doesn’t need to be great to help this team earn this ranking, they just need to be better than last year.
West Virginia tried to challenge themselves in the non-conference with games against Tennessee (Charlotte, NC), Youngstown State (home) and NC State (away). The NC State game will be tough, especially on the road, but West Virginia is the more talented team and should win.
The round-robin Big XII schedule means that there is no dodging any teams. The tough games for the Mountaineers include Kansas State (home), Iowa State (away), Texas (away), Oklahoma State (away) and Oklahoma (home). They may drop a game or two, but should be able to make the Big 12 Championship Game.
With this schedule, nine to 11 wins and a Big 12 Championship is entirely within reach for the Mountaineers.
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