For the first time since joining the Big 12 and the first time in school history, the West Virginia Mountaineers can lay claim to being Oklahoma State champions, by virtue of beating both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the same year, ending a 9-year losing streak to the Sooners (2012-2021, 2020 void) and a 7-year losing streak to the Cowboys (2015-2021).
The win means the Mountaineers finish 5-7. It means a bowl game is most likely out of the cards. It means this season is over. So let’s discuss this game, this season, and what could happen in the next few weeks.
At the beginning of the year, everyone was very excited about CJ Donaldson and after the Pitt game, it was justified. A large man capable of running around and through tacklers while catching the ball out of the backfield is a dream scenario, yet the Mountaineers seemingly buried their four-star, freshman running back Jaylen Anderson on the depth chart. Anderson finished the year with a 15-carry, 155-yard, 2-touchdown performance that ultimately is the reason we are in good spirits today. The Mountaineers don’t win without him, so why was he buried on the depth chart and why did it take multiple injuries to see his talent?
Garrett Greene / Nicco Marchiol
I’ve seen a lot of chatter over the past few weeks that Greene is not the future and the team would be better off simply moving onto Marchiol as soon as they can. I have to believe this is because of Marchiol’s status as a “blue-chip” prospect (4-star) but I remind you he is still a freshman. Yesterday, the conditions were not good to judge any player on their passing ability, but Marchiol finished 2-of-9 for 29 yards. His passes were not on target. I’m not suggesting he is dog poop and should leave, but I also don’t think you should anoint him simply because. 2023 will likely see an open competition, as it should, but don’t simply give the position away.
This game had the weird energy of most fans wanting it to be over, mostly so we could get to today, tomorrow or Tuesday. Thirteen days ago, the University fired Athletic Director Shane Lyons. It was a move that signaled that the days for the head coach at West Virginia were likely numbered and when the coach wasn’t fired after the ugly debacle with Iowa State, it became clear that he would coach through the end of the season. We have now arrived at the end of the season and have some timelines we need to remember.
November 14 - Shane Lyons Fired. The school informed everyone they hired a search firm (TurnkeyZRG) to assist in the search for a new AD. The timeline established during the press conference was 3-4 weeks. We have now reached two weeks.
December 5 - Transfer Portal “Opens”. You will see many players announce their intent to enter the portal prior to the portal opening and you will see many more players enter the portal after it opens. It has been rumored this may be a true Collegiate Free Agency where every player is eligible and every player seeks to find the best deal for them. If it sounds like chaos, it is. For West Virginia, not having an AD and coach selected by this date is a problem.
December 21 - Early Signing Period. The move to allow for an early signing period has taken a lot of the wind out of the sails of the February signing day and moved it forward. Many classes are set by this date and this date allows coaches to focus on the few remaining holes in their classes rather than have to recruit for an additional two months.
Three weeks from November 14 would be December 5, right when the portal opens. Assuming the new Athletic Director will want to make a decision on the head coach, asking him to make a decision on the head coach the day the portal opens feels like asking a teenage girl to defend Michael Myers with a bobby pin. It doesn’t seem like a good idea. It also puts the possibility of Brown’s return at a higher chance, one that many fans are likely not going to want.
Neal Brown’s Return
If you are asking me today, I would say that the chances that Brown returns to the Mountaineers in 2023 are very low. Shane Lyons, the man who hired and put his faith in Brown, is gone, ousted by the powers that be and that run this University. Athletic Directors like to hire their own people. Yet, still, the University has set forth a timeline of 3-4 weeks to hire a new AD, and that conflicts with some of the time laid out in the previous section. Players are going to enter the transfer portal. Players need to be signed to Letters of Intent. If I had to lay odds, I would say Brown’s return is a 3 out of 10. You may not want to hear that. I don’t want to hear that, but the real possibility of his return does exist. You can hear it in the way that ESPN and other outlets, (Three Guys) talk about it on their shows. They get that information from people with knowledge and power and therefore that information must be taken with some grains of truth.
Some people have pointed to Scott Frost and Jim Harbaugh as examples of reworking a contract to make it more favorable to the school, but I would counter those statements with “Why should Brown sign any contract that essentially guarantees he will be fired?” Right now, Brown is owed a little more than 17 million dollars through the end of 2026. If the University chooses to release him they owe him his salary, every two weeks through the end of 2026. Why should Brown sign something that reduces that amount? Would you? I wouldn’t.
Additionally, the University needs to weigh the fan resentment if Brown returns. The coach currently sits at 22-25 through four years of coaching this team. Three times, his team has finished below .500. Twice they’ve failed to make a bowl game. The best win is a 9-3 Army team. They haven’t beaten a team that finished the year ranked. It took a confluence of events to beat the Oklahoma teams and even then you barely beat them. You have never won three games in a row. Next year opens on the road against Penn State. How do you bring him back and sell any sort of excitement or development to this fanbase? You just can’t.
Hopefully, the next few weeks are busy for us. Hopefully, we are covering an Athletic Director hire tomorrow and discussing potential new coaches by the end of the week. If not, I leave you with this question: you saw a lot of new faces for the Mountaineers this year from Greene to Marchiol to Anderson to Wilson-Lamp and beyond. Who are you excited about in 2023?