College football remains the single most enigmatic sport. In all of the professional league sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) there is a playoff that is straightforward. You are placed in a division. Division winners are automatic qualifiers into the playoffs. If you don’t finish first in your division, there are a set number of wild cards. Then the rules are fairly simple. Win and advance or lose and go home. There are no polls. There are no rankings. No one cares about conferences or divisions or “out-of-conference” games. Best records are in the playoffs then it becomes a do-or-die scenario for those teams.
But not college football. College football is great (and bad) because it has nuances like pre-season polls. It has blue-bloods and up-and-comers. Start the season low or lose a bad game early and your season could be over before it even starts. Win a big game on a national stage and you could see your status elevated for a season. It all depends on your hype.
That brings me to the 2018 West Virginia Mountaineers. Are they over-hyped because of a current player (or players) or are they under-hyped as betting parliaments are viewing the Mountaineers no better than a .500 team?
You would have to be oblivious to college football to not have heard of the hype of the Mountaineers, specifically that of their signal caller, Will Grier. Grier has attracted a lot of preseason hype, including Heisman Trophy odds and NFL Draft pick considerations. The over-hype of the Mountaineers begins with Grier.
Grier was sensational as a junior in his first year starting for Dana Holgorsen. Grier in 10 and 1⁄2 games threw for 3,490 yards, 34 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, completed 64% of his passes and was one of the best deep ball passers in the game. He was absolutely made for this version of the Air Raid.
Grier isn’t the only reason for the hype. Also returning to the Mountaineers is David Sills, the Biletnikoff finalist. Sills led the NCAA in receiving touchdowns, despite not catching a touchdown in his final three contests. Sills was a favorite target of Grier. Returning both the best deep passing quarterback and one of the best deep receiving targets on the same team is going to generate a lot of hype.
David Sills hauled in 18 TD passes and the 17th-highest passer rating when targeted among returning WRs a season ago pic.twitter.com/oB9TA79ov8— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 5, 2018
Then comes the schedule. The Mountaineers will play a neutral site game against the Tennessee Volunteers in North Carolina. They will also play a road game against N.C. State Wolfpack. NC State won 9 games last year and return their own signal caller. The Volunteers just hired a two-time national champion in Jeremy Pruitt. NC State figures to be a good, solid team at the end of the year and Tennessee is a wildcard that could surprise a few people. Those two wins early in the season could be resume builders later on.
While the out-of-conference schedule could benefit the Mountaineers early, the Mountaineers will get two of the more dangerous teams, Oklahoma and TCU at home, late in the season. West Virginia, if it survives the OOC, will play all of the weaker teams in conference first, allowing them to work out kinks in the system and gain confidence before the real meat grinder. A confident team can be a dangerous team.
West Virginia also has the benefit of playing in a conference where the star quarterbacks are not returning. Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield graduated from the Oklahoma Sooners and was selected first overall in the NFL Draft. Mason Rudolph, who broke every possible passing record for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, also graduated and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gary Patterson and the TCU Horned Frogs will have to replace incumbent starter Kenny Hill. Even the ever dangerous Texas Tech Red Raiders will have a new starter after the graduation of Nic Shimonek. So the Mountaineers are playing in a perceived “weakened” conference.
All of these factors have lead to the Mountaineers becoming a preseason darling and Big 12 Title “darkhorse”. It’s also lead to the Mountaineers being “over-hyped”.
Wait just a minute. How can a team with all of the factors above be both over-hyped and under-hyped? Well, for one, Vegas appears to think that the 2018 Mountaineers will only win 7 games despite the 2017 Mountaineers sitting at 7-3 before a bad goalline bootleg playcall by Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital that left Will Grier with a dislocated, fractured finger on his throwing hand.
That feels awfully low considering the Mountaineers matched that total last year despite the injury to Grier. A full season of Grier likely would have yielded 8 or 9 wins. If the Mountaineers with one of the younger teams won 7 games, why would you expect the older, more experienced version of the team to finish with the same or fewer wins?
BetDSI believes Oklahoma is the Big 12 favorite with an over/under of 10.5 wins. The Sooners, who reached the College Football Playoff for the second time, lost Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield but do have six starters back on offense with talented receivers and running backs sure to help Mayfield’s successor. Oklahoma State is second with 8.5 wins. The Cowboys are replacing Mason Rudolph and Biletnokoff Award winner James Washington but have seven starters back on defense. TCU is third with eight wins despite replacing most of its starting offense. Oklahoma (12), TCU (11) and Oklahoma State (10) were the Big 12’s only teams to win 10 or more games last season.
Projecting the Mountaineers to win only 7 games with the firepower they return seems short-sighted. Even more so when the teams mentioned (OU, OSU and TCU) all have to replace multiple starters including the most important position, starting quarterback.
Another failing on the 2018 Mountaineers is the losses experienced on defense. The Mountaineers lost their best safety in Kyzir White. Former All Big 12 safety Dravon Askew-Henry struggled to return to form in 2017 following an ACL tear that kept him out of the 2016 season.
Along with White, the Mountaineers lost Freshman All-American Lamonte McDougle to Washington State, defensive end Adam Shuler left the team, and linebacker Brendan Ferns was lost to another ACL injury. Those defensive losses happened to a defense that gave up over 200 yards rushing per game, including a 300-yard effort against the Kansas Jayhawks.
Those losses on defense, along with the bad stats allowed by the 2017 defense has given some press to rank the Mountaineers low, or not at all. SportingNews.com completely left the Mountaineers off their preseason Top 25, CBS Sports has the Mountaineers at 18, USA Today has the Mountaineers at 19, and Athlon Sports has the Mountaineers at 22. If you think this team has the ability to win 10+ games, make a Big 12 Title Game and maybe compete for a national championship, all of that feels like under-hype.
Is WVU Over-Hyped or Under-Hyped heading into 2018?
This poll is closed