Welcome to a new year and a new West Virginia Mountaineers football team. Gone are the old ways and the old players; in are the new systems, new coaches and new transfers. It has been a relatively quiet summer and now we are finally - FINALLY - into actual game week. With that, let’s jump into my thoughts for the 2019 season and see exactly where this new journey will take us.
I THINK NEAL BROWN OFFERS PROMISE
A new head coach is a lot like a new relationship in many ways. You approach everything with the tinted rose colored glasses of hope and positivity. A new coach offers the promise of removing the bad from the previous regime. He offers the hope that the players will react to a new person telling them how to run, how to throw, how to tackle and how to block, differently and better.
Neal Brown comes to us via Troy and he talks just like us and he talks about culture, about history and about doing things the right way. After eight years of broken promises and false hopes, Neal’s version of Mountaineer football gives us the belief that this guy can get it right. Brown has made it clear he will recruit West Virginia and the surrounding areas and he will do so vigorously and intently. He will make sure that all of the prospects in the surrounding areas know exactly who the Mountaineers are and that they can’t ignore the old gold and blue.
Fans have embraced this newness and we believe. We believe Neal can get it done. He can take these men and turn them into the group that takes the step into conference champions and perhaps into the college football playoff. That promise, that hope is what we all enjoy at this stage and it makes the coming seasons seem more hopeful.
I THINK DANA WAS OKAY
This will be the last time I address former head coach Dana Holgorsen in this column. I think Dana was a good coach and one that helped bridge the Mountaineers from a Big East team that was used to being the big fish in a small pond, often worried about defending its title of “BCS Conference”, often against the ACC to a legit Power 5 team that could regularly play conference opponents who recruited bigger, better players. In that context, I think Dana did his job. We successfully transitioned and now have a team with a full 85 scholarship players.
But because Dana did not do what Oliver Luck said he was firing Bill Stewart for, that of winning championships, Dana’s faults always seemed bigger than they were, and Dana had plenty. His faults lost games every season that the team shouldn’t have and his inability to consistently prepare his team in November often lead to collapses that haunted the season. I was a fan of Dana, despite those faults but as last year drew to a close, it became painfully clear that the team and the fan base needed a break from the head coach. He failed to win with a senior, 5-star quarterback and plethora of receivers. He lost another shootout to Oklahoma. His team failed to beat Oklahoma State despite having a monstrous lead at halftime and that loss ultimately cost the players a chance at the Championship Game.
Under Dana, the Mountaineers twice hosted GameDay and several high profile transfers found their way to the Mountaineers. None of that can be discounted, but the failures and the missteps were too much to overcome. I wish Dana well and hold no ill will towards him but I look forward to Neal Brown.
I THINK KENNEDY MCKOY WILL BE A BEAST
Kennedy McKoy has been a stud since he became a Mountaineer. Whether it is as a freshman when he took a flare pass and absolutely wrecked a BYU defender or last year when he took a handoff 70 yards for a score that should have given us a lead but was called back for a rarely called personal foul, McKoy has been consistently tough and reliable.
This season, McKoy will be asked to be the feature back and the way Brown has run his offenses at Troy, one back gets the majority of the handoffs. In both 2016 and 2018, Brown gave the ball to his lead back over 200 times. McKoy has never carried more than 145 times in his three years, so 200+ carries should net him over 1,000 yards.
I THINK SAM JAMES WILL BE A HOUSEHOLD NAME BY SEASON’S END
James has drawn nothing but praise from the new staff and he has shown the ability to be a big playmaker. According to reports, he has consistently gotten behind defensive backs and given the quarterbacks a guy who can take the top off the defense. If Kennedy McKoy does become the guy who can pick up yards on the ground, having a guy who can get deep and get deep quickly becomes all the more valuable to this offense. James is a championship high school track athlete, one who won the Georgia Championship in the 400. He is often listed among the fastest players on the team. I expect by the end of the year, you will be looking for a Kendall to James connection.
I THINK 5-1 IS POSSIBLE EARLY
Possible, but not probable. It wouldn’t totally surprise me if the team beat James Madison, NC State, Kansas and at 3-1 had enough confidence to catch a Texas Longhorns team off guard as they break in so many new starters. A win against Texas could lead to a win against Iowa State and suddenly the Mountaineers are standing at 5-1. Both Texas and Iowa State lose significant players. That will take big contributions from new players and it can be tough to replace all that production.
Realistically, I’m not sure they will go 5-1 early because Texas and Iowa State are still really good, but just in case, know it is in play.
I THINK THE TEAM WILL GO BOWLING
I don’t think Neal Brown needs to make a bowl game in his first year. I think it is totally possible this is a shitshow of a year and we end up with a 3-9 record, but I have gone on air and on record to announce that I think the team will go bowling this year. In order for them to do that, they will need to steal a win against Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State or TCU. Ultimately, the stretch of games in October will likely determine if the team is bowl-eligible, as Texas, ISU, Oklahoma and Baylor are the preseason top 4 teams in the league. If the Mountaineers can find a way to steal a win against any of those four teams, I think Brown will be bowling in December.