College football is less than two months away.
This is the time of year that fans, players and coaches start to get excited knowing that they are still in the running for a National Title.
It’s also the time of year for the media preseason conference polls to roll out and that is exactly what happened Thursday in the Big 12.
As expected, the Oklahoma Sooners were pegged to finish first and rightfully so. The champs from last year bring back star quarterback Baker Mayfield, but have to replace star running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Dede Westbrook is also gone from the receiving corps as they look for Marquise Brown to fill that void.
The Cowboys of Oklahoma State were the trendy pick at No. 2. Considering they return a lethal offensive backfield of Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Justice Hill, this selection was not a surprise and well warranted.
Rudolph would have been one of the top QB’s in the NFL draft this past April and Hill set the single season freshman rushing record for OSU last season. So, the Cowboys in the second spot is fine.
The logjam is in the third through fifth spots. Most would think that the West Virginia Mountaineers would be in at least one of those but most would be wrong.
WVU was picked sixth and although, yes, it is a preseason poll which means about as much as a Heisman contender in September, it still shows a little disrespect from media outlets that the team has been dealing with for years.
The disrespect is even greater considering the Mountaineers were picked seventh in last year’s preseason poll. They went on to finish 10-3 and tied for second place when it was all said and done.
But as stated before, it doesn’t really matter; it’s just a little infuriating. But what else is new?
So let’s see why the experts are not too keen on WVU.
Maybe it’s because Skyler Howard has graduated. Howard, no matter the perception of him, did put up some good numbers in his career, was experienced and played every snap like it was his last. However, Will Grier is stepping in with major hype and already has power five conference experience in the SEC while at Florida and with no offense to Howard, is considered by many in the program as an upgrade in terms of natural ability.
Justin Crawford returns at running back and is an All-BIG 12 conference selection. Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway are behind him and each have had their own taste of success.
Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts are gone at receiver, so maybe the media weighed that heavily. But considering that Ka’Raun White, David Sills, Jovon Durante, Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings all return, that should not be the reason either.
The offensive line looks good on paper with the return of projected future pro, Yodny Cajuste, Kyle Bosch, Colton McKivitz and Grant Lingafelter. Replacing Tyler Orlosky and Adam Pankey will be a slight challenge but Matt Jones and Lingafelter will be fine there.
So, that leaves the defense. In all fairness, the defense did lose a lot of key players. Rasul Douglas, Justin Arndt, Maurice Fleming, Antonio Crawford, Noble Nwachukwu, Darrien Howard, Christian Brown, Jarrod Harper and Jeremy Tyler are several guys that exited and more than a handful of them were on an NFL roster this summer.
I understand the defensive concerns. What I do not doubt though, is defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
Gibson’s players love playing for him and respect him so much that they would take the expression “run through a wall for him” literally, and run right through a wall. Gibson has elevated himself into one of the more respected defensive coordinators in college football and is a vital piece of the Mountaineer puzzle.
Plus, there is talent to work with and some that have been in the program several years such as Adam Shuler, Al-Rasheed Benton, Xavier Preston, Dravon Askew-Henry, Kyzir White, David Long (will miss at least first four games due to injury) and Elijah Battle. That list doesn’t include the youngsters that are drawing rave reviews also.
That brings us to the schedule.
The 2017 slate is definitely not the easiest one but it can be doable IF the team can avoid the injury bug. The first half of the schedule is set up for success, especially if the Mountaineers can get by the Virginia Tech Hokies in Landover, MD and do not have a monumental letdown over the next three contests. The back part of the schedule is the toughest part but by that time anything could have occurred so other teams will be dealing with possible issues as well such as injuries, suspensions, etc. West Virginia finishes the season at Oklahoma and that one follows a home matchup with Texas and a road trip to Manhattan against Kansas State and those three may define whether the media got it right or wrong.
Again, the preseason polls mean absolutely nothing and yes, there are a few concerns among fans regarding the roster.
But, sixth? It just seems a little low. Third or fourth would seem more realistic and if a few bounces go the Mountaineers way, they could challenge for that number one spot.
It will all start officially September 3rd against the Hokies.
The full Big 12 preseason poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, is:
- Oklahoma (19)
- Oklahoma State (12)
- Kansas State (1)
- West Virginia
- Texas Tech
- Iowa State