1. Will bowl game Skyler Howard continue his development?
In the Cactus Bowl, Howard threw for 532 yards and 5 touchdowns on 51 attempts. Skyler looked more in-sync and more poised in the bowl game than he had during much of the 2015 campaign. Skyler threw deep with purpose, connecting on passes of 64, 59, 53, 32, and 22 yards with five different receivers. Ten different players caught passes in the bowl game. If the Mountaineers are going to challenge for a Big 12 title, Skyler will need to improve upon his bowl game and complete passes at a higher percentage while making the deep throws count.
2. Will the new linebackers develop quickly?
The loss of senior linebackers Jared Barber, Nick Kwiatkoski and Shaq Petteway leaves a void in the defense. Tony Gibson recently gave a verbal depth chart and noted that Xavier Preston and Sean Walters were the first guys on the outside and (surprisingly) Hodari Christian was the #1 in the middle over Al-Rasheed Benton. Walters and Preston played in all 13 games last year while Hodari played in 7. The linebackers last year were the rock of the defense, delivering sure tackles and keeping opposing running backs from generating a lot of yards.
3. Will the new cornerbacks coach (Blue Adams) and receivers coach (TBD) acclimate themselves?
Former Miami defensive backs coach Blue Adams comes to the West Virginia staff highly recommended and highly touted from his NFL counterparts. He is going to need to quickly develop several players who will be replacing high end starters including safeties KJ Dillon and Karl Joseph along with cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrel Chestnut. Adams has some talent to work with in returning two-year starter Drayvon Askew-Henry along with reserves Nana Kyeremeh and Rasul Douglas.
Whomever Dana Holgorsen hires to replace Lonnie Galloway will need to continue the development Galloway started with Shelton Gibson. Gibson will be the Mountaineers big-play threat. More importantly will be the development of Jovon Durante, Gary Jennings and Ka'Raun White. Jovon was a true freshman starter last year and burst onto the scene with a touchdown grab in his very first game on his very first catch. Durante and many other receivers struggled with drops last year and it will be up to the new coach to develop these talented pass-catchers into reliable threats for WVU.
4. Who replaces Boomstache?
Nick O'Toole's status as a secret weapon for the Mountaineers came to an end in Arizona. Nick led the conference in punting average as a senior, averaging over 45 yards per punt. Nick's ability to flip the field and and pin opponents back against their goalline helped the defense by putting them in advantageous positions. With a very young defense, the new punter may be called upon to once again put the defense in a position to succeed. Sometimes you don't realize just what you had until its gone and that could very well be the case with the absence of Nick.
5. Is Rushel Shell ready to be the bell cow?
With the Mountaineers in free-fall following a four-game death march in October, Wendell Smallwood gave Dana Holgorsen no choice but to become a running team. Wendell racked up five (5) 100-yard games in a six game stretch to end the regular season, including back to back 160 yard efforts against Texas Tech and Texas. Wendell seized what opportunity he could and left early for the draft, leaving former 5-star Pitt recruit Rushel Shell to become the senior leader at running back.
Rushel has been consistent but not very flashy as a running back. As a freshman at Pitt, he ran for 641 yards and a 4.5 YPC average. As a redshirt sophomore at WVU, he rushed for 788 yards on 4.5 YPC. Last year as a junior, Rushel ran for 708 yards on 4.4 yards per carry. He has been extremely consistent but not much of a home-run threat for the Mountaineers. Is Rushel ready to break into the realm of 230 carries and be the guy who carries the offense when the passing game is shut down? The Mountaineers will need him to step up.