Here we are, two weeks away from kicking off the actual football games when the West Virginia Mountaineers will take on the Pitt Panthers in the 105th meeting between the two schools on September 1st. Its the start of the fourth year of Neal Brown’s rocky, up-and-down tenure at West Virginia. A new offense has been promised, a new quarterback is expected to be named starter, and the defense is expected to be a force. I have thoughts and feelings and lots of other things, so let’s get into this team.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, this year is pivotal for Brown. He hasn’t lit the world on fire and the Mountaineers have struggled in his first three years here. If Dana Holgorsen divided fans because he wasn’t one of us, didn’t wear the colors, got drunk, or whatever other issue it was, Brown has divided fans by the level of play of his teams. Promised and told to the fans was that Brown was a thinking man, one who analyzed all of the minute details of the game. His third game of his coaching tenure here, he chose to kneel an extra point because if it were blocked, the opponent could run it back and suddenly the game would be in jeopardy.
What we’ve seen so far has been a team that maybe thinks too much or a head coach trying to get too perfect. Needing to waste timeouts coming out of kickoffs or out of a break, illegal procedure penalties, and other mental mistakes have plagued this team. All of that stuff has to go away now. It just has to. After 35 games and three seasons, looking like a first time pop-warner football team is unacceptable.
The good news for the fans who love the coach is that unless this team starts 0-6, theres no way Shane Lyons and powers that be are going to fire Brown this year. He’s hired a new offensive coordinator and turned the management of the offense over to Graham Harrel. He’s brought in a former five-star quarterback who started at both USC Trojans and Georgia Bulldogs. There appeas to be depth and talent along the defensive line. All of the factors that donors and presidents love, Brown has done and they have every reason to try and give him as much rope as possible before pulling the ripcord.
The question I have, and the question you should have is, what is acceptable this season. Is 6-6 acceptable? Is 7-5? What is your level of “that’ll do pig” or bare minimum? The Mountaineers have played in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (#6 Big 12 Bowl Tie In) and the Autozone Liberty Bowl (#5 Big 12 Bowl Tie In). For me, 7-5 is a bare minimum and even then I’m not sure I’ll be happy with being 1 game better than we’ve been.
Most of the excitement surrounding this team is the notion of reuniting offensive coordinator Graham Harrel with one of his former proteges in JT Daniels. Daniels enjoyed his most productive season in 2019 when he was a freshman at USC and Harrel was the OC. In fact, over 50% of Daniels career numbers came in that freshman season (2,600 yards, 14 touchdowns on 360 attempts). If Daniels is healthy, there is no reason he can’t exceed those numbers.
I would caution you, however, on thinking that the offense is going to be explosive and set the world on fire. Brown’s offenses have never been world beaters and even though he has an OC, I would expect Brown to have input on the offense. Brown’s offenses have ranked 73rd (2015), 43rd (2016), 38th (2017), 58th (2018), 111th (2019), 100th (2020), 101st (2021). Offenses take time to implement and time to develop the chemistry.
I also would expect Brown to protect his defense. Where former air-raid coaches would put the throttle down and score another 14 points, I expect Brown to slow games down and try to run the clocks out. That strategy will likely lead to fewer points, fewer yards, fewer possessions. None of which is bad. If the team can consistently gain a lead and then shorten the game, that is a winning scenario every time, but it does come with the cost of not being a top-10 offense and not being the most exciting game to watch. Another reason the offense may not be as good as we hope is....
At this point, the offensive line has to be better than last year and has to be capable of taking over games. HAS. TO. BE. I know some people are going to yell and say “it takes time for offensive linemen to get strong enough” and they are right. That was a truth in 2019 and 2020. It is not a truth in 2022.
Wyatt Millum (Soph), James Gmiter (R-Jr), Zach Frazier (CO. Soph), Doug Nester (CO. Jr), Brandon Yates (CO. R-Soph). Combined they have played in 124 games. They have experience, they have time in the weight room and they have playing time together. They have to be better. This isn’t just a proclamation that this group has to be better, there are expectations that they better.
Millum is a 95-rated 4-star offensive lineman. Doug Nester is a 95-rated, 4 star offensive lineman. Frazier is an 87 rated, 3 star lineman who has been named a preseason All-American. Yates (or Hubbard) and Gmiter are high three star rated lineman who have been in the program for years. You can’t have all of this talent and just be lump on a log. You have to be capable of blocking for your quarterback and opening up holes for your running back.
If the offensive line is able to run block and hold up against blitzes that bodes really well for everyone else involved, but if they are merely adequate, that just may not be enough this time.
If there is a player I am truly excited about on defense, it is middle linebacker Lee Kpogba. Once I get down with have to spell out his name with silent consonants (his name is pronounced KO-Ba, like Cobra without the R), he truly seems to be a special player. He can make the sideline to sideline play, running down running backs before they can turn the edge or hitting the hole and meeting a guy at the line of scrimmage, but more importantly, he comes across as a leader.
I listened to Kpogba speak during his media session and he was fantastic - engaging, humble, introspective and fearless. He comes across as a natural leader and the coaches have said as much about him.
“Mike linebacker, that’s your quarterback. the defense goes, usually as that goes. Mike Singletary, Ray Lewis...the quarterback, that’s what they are. the physical leader, the emotional leader” - West Virginia Defensive Coordinator Jordan Lesley
It’s been a minute since West Virginia has had a linebacker who could change a game, but I truly do believe that Kpogba could be the type of linebacker who affects both the run game and the pass game and offenses have to know where he is on the field at all times. That type of player affects the game through more than just the stat sheet.
I’m both very excited about the wide receivers and cautiously dampening my expectations for the receiving group this year. On the one hand, Ford-Wheaton is a COVID R-Jr with 34 games under his belt. So is Sam James and he has 38 games under his belt. Kaden Prather just looks different and could be the difference maker we’ve been missing. Reese Smith has garnered nothing but praise for the last few weeks and Jeremiah Aaron has been spoken about with glowing praise.
Yet, for the past three years, these players have not produced. They haven’t put up big plays or big numbers. Was that the fault of the offensive scheme? (Probably). Was that the fault of the quarterback? (Most likely). Was it a fault of the receivers - either in talent or ability? (Also likely).
I think they have the ability to be great here. They have a quarterback throwing the ball who can throw them open. They have an offensive line that should hold up better than it has. They have an offensive scheme that should put them in position to succeed. So I expect big things out of them, but I expect them to be able to produce.
If Harrel’s offense produces those exciting big plays, the energy for the Mountaineers will return. This team and this fanbase has lacked the energy and drive and excitement that comes with good football and the receivers are the ones who can truly inject that into the team. Big plays are infectious. Big plays are fun. Big plays mask a whole lot of deficincies.
I haven’t decided if I’m going to do a full game-by-game breakdown on how I think the season will play out yet, but I do have an idea of what the team’s final record will be and how the season will play out. My numbers, algorithms and general sense is that this team in 2022 is a 6-6 team. That’s my prediction for 2022, 6-6, which is less than what I want for this team. If you wanna know, I broke down the season into three phases.
I think the Mountaineers end the first month at 3-1. I dont think they beat Pitt but I do think they beat Towson, Kansas and Virginia Tech. I’m ok with losing to Pitt and beating VT because I like the idea of owning the Black Diamond Trophy for 7,000 days. Tech hold the trophy from 2004 through 2021 - a 17 year period and over 6,000 days. I’d like to own the trophy that long as well.
Kansas and Towson are Kansas and Towson and losing to either should be grounds for immediate dismissal. I don’t see that happening at this point and it shouldn’t be a concern to anyone.
I have the Mountaineers going 2-2 in October, to put their record at 5-3. Still a very good spot to be in. It’s probably going to be a bit dicey because I think Texas and Baylor are much better than Tech and TCU. Baylor is going to be tough and I don’t have the Mountaineers beating the Bears this year. I think Texas is better and the game is on the road so the Mountaineers could be 3-3 at the mid-point this year before rebounding in late October.
I think Brown needs to beat Tech this year simply because on a year-to-year basis, the Mountaineers are better than Tech. They should be this year and they have been most years. I also think from a psyche standpoint, Brown needs to help Mountaineer fans get over that hump.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Since I predicted 6-6 and I have the Mountaineers at 5-3 coming into November, you can guess where this is going. I don’t think November will be pretty. I’ve got West Virginia going 1-3 in the back four of the season. I just think the last three games are against teams that are better than WVU this year.
The worst part is that I don’t have the Mountaineers beating Oklahoma which will likely mean that West Virginia is winless against the Sooners as a member of the Big 12. I also have the Mountaineers losing their last three games, which is never good for a team as it heads into bowl season. Another thought would be that the Mountaineers went 3-1 / 2-2 / 1-3 which seems to be the wrong direction to be heading as we end the fourth year of this regime.
How many regular season games will WVU win?
This poll is closed
4 or less
9 or more