Three and nine. 4-8. 2-10.
Those are some of the “experts” predictions this year for the West Virginia Mountaineers football team. And as we all know, the “experts” are always right. Right?
Not this year.
New head coach Neal Brown enters his first season in Morgantown with low expectations from the outside world so there is really no pressure on him to win immediately. However, the Mountaineers will win immediately. Not because I said so, but because the cupboard was not left completely bare by the Red Bull drinking, crazy hair wearing playboy that exited to the bigger city of Houston, but for smaller marbles.
There is plenty of talent on the team, but some of it is just inexperienced. Yes, experience matters greatly in FBS athletics, but luckily for the Mountaineers, the Big 12 conference as a whole will be pretty inexperienced outside of a couple of teams.
Now let’s look at why the national media has the wrong perception of WVU for 2019.
- The quarterback position will actually be a strength.
Austin Kendall was named the starter this week, coincidentally the same day Bowling Green transfer Jarrett Doege was granted a waiver by the NCAA that made him eligible this season. But even with that news, coach Brown still announced for Kendall which says one thing; Kendall finally has command of the offense. Several people close to the program had said that Doege was by far the best QB on the roster based on drills and things of that nature. He is definitely the most experienced having started for a season and a half with the Falcons and throwing for over 4,000 yards and 39 touchdowns.
But Kendall was very effective in his limited Oklahoma Sooner role where he spent two seasons backing up Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
So with Kendall coming along and Doege able to play at least four games if he is needed to, the signal caller spot has been solidified for the near and distant future.
- The Best Group of Running Backs Reside in Morgantown
Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway, Leddie Brown, Alec Sinkfield and Tony Mathis.
If there is a better group of running backs from top to bottom in the Big 12 Conference, speak now for forever hold your peace. Hmmm, all I hear is holding peace.
McKoy and Pettaway are senior veterans who have each had their fair share of huge contributions over the past couple of years. Coach Brown is expecting McKoy to break out and be a star. Pettaway has looked excellent in fall camp and will be a short yardage monster with his power and moves. Brown is a load as well and has gotten better at making people miss in the open field while Sinkfield has shown so much flash that he may take several snaps from the receiver position just to get him on the field with the other backs at the same time.
Mathis is a well-built freshman who may redshirt this season, but his future is solidified in Morgantown.
As long as the semi-experienced offensive line opens up some holes, the running backs will see the end zone quite often.
- This Coaching Staff Will Make Players Better as the Season Progresses
Whether intentional or not, the previous coaching staff’s teams would start off the season like they were legitimate Playoff contenders. That is until about mid October to early November when the Mountaineers would just completely falter and fall off down the stretch and what looked like a promising 9-3 or 10-2 type season, turned into a typical Dana Holgorsen 8-5 or 7-6.
Those days are over as Brown will not let that happen. Now, I’m not saying WVU will never suffer a loss in the last month of the season, but I will guarantee that Brown’s teams will stay engaged and show steady improvement as the season goes on. They will stay hungry and play hard and not waste any practice time to hit the local bars.
With a fresh new staff joining him, Brown has all the right pieces to make this improvement happen.
- The Wide Receivers Are Going to Be Excellent Once They Settle.
This is the group that has all the talent, but a tad short on experience. The word from practice is that Sean Ryan, the Temple transfer still awaiting word on eligibility for this year, has been the best receiver on the team. Everyone knows T.J. Simmons will be consistent and George Campbell, a Florida State transfer was productive in his time with the Seminoles, but injuries kept him off the field more than on it.
That is where Sam James, Bryce Wheaton, Isiah Esdale, Tevin Bush and Ricky Johns come into play.
James is a burner that can get behind the defense as evidenced in the spring game. While recruited out of high school, James was recognized as one of the most underrated pass catchers in his class. Wheaton is a big target that has added a lot of muscle in the past several months. Esdale is a physical inside receiver who has steadily crept up the depth chart and will see major minutes on the field.
Bush is the small, speedy guy who can turn a short completion into a 60-yard gain and Johns’ hands are as steady as they come. In the spring game, he looked like Gary Jennings was returning for another season.
As long as Kendall can get the ball consistently to these options, the Mountaineers should be very good at the receiver spot.
- The Defense Will be one of the Top Three in the Conference.
Blah, blah, blah. The Big 12 doesn’t play defense. It’s easy to gain yards in the conference because of all the holes in the secondary. We have heard it for years from the $EC loving media, but the truth is the Big 12 is just head and shoulders above everyone else offensively.
That said, the Mountaineers defense will surprise a lot of people. Other than the free safety spot which was hit hard by the transfer portal, WVU looks good everywhere else. The move of Josh Norwood from cornerback to safety will pay big dividends and his backup, freshman Tykee Smith is very impressive as well, and will get his feet wet early.
The defensive line boasts some of the best depth West Virginia has had in quite awhile. Darius Stills looks good in the middle and Taijh Alston, Dante Stills and Reese Donahue are playmakers on the ends. Coordinator Vic Koenning’s defense relies on attacking and being aggressive whereas former DC Tony Gibson’s was blitz heavy, but the defensive linemen were asked to just take up space. That is no more. The line now will be asked to make plays, something that should excite the fans and the players. Reuben Jones, a Michigan transfer and Jeffery Pooler will provide quality depth.
The linebackers will be led by Josh Chandler, according to sources. The sophomore will remind folks of former LB’er David Long. Dylan Tonkery and Quondarius Qualls will be exceptional. Charlie Benton, Jake Abbott, Shea Campbell, Zach Sandwisch, Adam Hensley and Exree Loe all have some experience and know what they are supposed to do.
The biggest star was arguably supposed to be former Alabama linebacker Vandarius Cowan, but he has been suspended for the first four games due to eligibility issues. But Cowan is reportedly doing everything asked of him and working hard, so when he comes back for the October 5 game against Texas, he will add the missing link to the corps.
At cornerback, the Mountaineers are happy with Keith Washington, Hakeem Bailey and Dreshun Miller. But waiting in the wings ready to steal a starting spot are two talented freshmen, Tae Mayo and Nicktroy Fortune. Mayo had a pick-six a couple weeks ago in a scrimmage and Fortune is someone coach Brown raves about. So if the two experienced guys (Washington and Bailey) play well, the back end of the defense should be much better than what people think.
Kind of like the whole team, for that matter.
Cover Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS