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2016 West Virginia Football Position Previews: Skyler Howard And The Quarterbacks

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For the second consecutive year West Virginia will pin their hopes to Skyler Howard, but what may be a bigger story heading into the season opener against the Missouri Tigers is the ongoing battle between three Mountaineers for the backup role.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Skyler Howard began his tenure as starting quarterback for the Mountaineers towards the end of the 2014 season, and has carried that title through 2015 and into 2016. Howard's play has largely been inconsistent, but he did have a breakout performance in his most recent game - the bowl victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils. Howard had as many games (three) last season with multiple interceptions as he did with no interceptions, but his no interception games came against Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Kansas State. Howard's inconsistency at quarterback cannot solely be attributed to him, many games saw several different receivers dropping perfectly placed touchdown passes by Howard. Despite the ups and downs of last year's play Howard has shown flashes and there is plenty of room for optimism.

Since becoming the coach at WVU Dana Holgorsen has essentially had three main starting quarterbacks - Geno Smith, Clint Trickett, and Skyler Howard. I'm not counting players who have been the "starting" quarterback only to end up as backups or transfers. In 2012 Geno Smith was in his second year starting under Holgorsen and his completion percentage rose from 65.8% to 71.2% and his quarterback rating jumped from 152.6 to 163.9. Clint Trickett was plagued with injuries his first year at WVU, but in his second year his completion percentage rose from 52.8% to 67.1%, and his quarterback rating jumped from 114.6 to 142.3. Before WVU Holgorsen had a multi-year stint as offensive coordinator at Texas Tech where Graham Harrell was a full time starter in 2006 and 2007. In 2007 Harrell's completion percentage rose from 66.8% to 71. 8% and his quarterback rating rose from 145.5. to 157.3. If you combine Smith, Trickett, and Harrell's jumps in completion percentage and quarterback rating it's an average of an 8.2% leap in completion percentage, and a 16.9 point increase in quarterback ratings. Taking those numbers and assuming Howard makes a similar jump that previous Holgorsen quarterback's have made his projected completion percentage could raise from 54.8% to 63% and his quarterback rating could raise from 134.7 to 151.6. Should Howard make that leap his completion percentage and quarterback rating would be comparable to Geno Smith's 2011 season. Howard should also benefit from an offensive line that is among the most experienced in the country and a wide receiving corps that is stacked with returning and incoming talent.

The Backups

William Crest, Chris Chugnov, and Cody Saunders will battle for the backup job while Will Grier sits out this year and will most likely be the presumptive starter in 2017. Out of the 2016 backups, Crest brings the most game experience and athleticism, and at one point seemed ordained to be WVU's next quarterback. Crest's athleticism has earned him time at other spots including receiver and running back, and barring injury or a complete regression by Howard, Crest will likely only see meaningful field time at other positions. The coaches have largely been complimentary about Chris Chugnov's ability, and it will be interesting to see whom the coaches pick to be Howard's top backup. Cody Saunders has performed well through training camp and, according to Dana Holgorsen has been receiving a lot of reps during practice. Could the true freshman make enough of an impression to convince the staff to forgo a redshirt, and name Saunders the backup?

Conclusion

The hope from all of Mountaineer Nation is that Skyler Howard can make the leap necessary to bring WVU some much-needed success in 2016. Howard is experienced and will have the benefit of a strong receiving corps. The trends seem to indicate that he will improve, but if he shows no improvement or regresses the Mountaineers could be in real trouble as none of the backups have proven themselves on par with Skyler Howard.

Grade: B-