There is one more football game to be played in the 2016 season. Alabama vs. Clemson. But that doesn’t keep people from looking ahead to 2017 and giving their way too early Top 25. Athlon Sports posted theirs and have the Mountaineers ranked 23rd to start the 2017 season. Most of the reasoning is based upon Florida transfer Will Grier starting the season at quarterback.
On offense, the Mountaineers bring back nearly all of their explosive playmakers from an offense that finished 19th in the country but 6th in the Big 12 in yards per game (474.0). The Mountaineers finished 49th in the country with 30.6 points per game.
West Virginia will bring back a host of play-making receivers: Shelton Gibson, Ka’Raun White, and Jovon Durante caught 126 passes for 1,865 yards and 15 touchdowns. Working with Will Grier along with another year in the system should see those numbers improve dramatically.
West Virginia will also bring back its star running back Justin Crawford. Crawford rushed for 1,203 yards on 163 carries, good for over 7 yards per carry. Freshman Kennedy McKoy will help backup Crawford as well as talented freshman Martell Pettaway. McKoy and Pettaway added an additional 751 yards on the ground.
The defense is where the Mountaineers will look to rebuild once again. Tony Gibson’s #DAWGS will lose all three starting defensive linemen: Christian Brown, Darrien Howard and Noble Nwachukwu. The Mountaineers will also lose All Big-12 cornerback Rasul Douglas to the NFL Draft.
Here is what Athlon had to say about West Virginia in 2017
Assuming quarterback Will Grier is eligible for the entire 2017 season, the Mountaineers should push to be a top 25 team once again. Grier played in six games as a redshirt freshman at Florida (1,204 yards and 10 TDs) before a suspension ended his 2015 campaign. The addition of Grier should boost West Virginia’s passing attack, especially with one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps in place. Shelton Gibson (22.1 ypc), Ka’Raun White (48 catches) and Jovon Durante headline the key returnees on the outside, and the Mountaineers return 1,000-yard rusher Justin Crawford and promising freshmen Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway at running back. The biggest question mark for coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense is the offensive line. Center Tyler Orlosky, left tackle Adam Pankey and guard Tony Matteo expire their eligibility, but left tackle Yodny Cajuste is back from injury. Similar to last season, coordinator Tony Gibson will have a busy offseason replacing some key faces on defense. Standout cornerback Rasul Douglas, end Noble Nwachukwu and defensive backs Antonio Crawford, Maurice Fleming, Jarrod Harper and Jeremy Tyler are just a few of the names departing a solid 2016 unit. Gibson will regain the services of safety Dravon Askew-Henry, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in August.
Four other Big 12 teams are ranked in Athlon’s list. Texas comes in at #20, Kansas State is ranked #18. Oklahoma State with senior Mason Rudolph are just outside the top 10 at #11. Oklahoma, the presumed conference favorite is ranked #6. West Virginia will play Oklahoma State and Texas at home in 2017 while traveling to Kansas State and Oklahoma.