Mitch Vingle: Making a call on the Mountaineers
Football is here.
And with that comes your annual WVU prediction, cured through spring and summer camps, cooked after all the available information surfaced.
It’s a big year, of course, for Dana Holgorsen. Another 4-8 season won’t go over well in the Mountain State. On the other hand, if he turns it around against this season’s Mountaineer schedule, his stature will rise not only at home, but nationally.
As I wrote this past week, a close look at the Big 12 teams shows some teams have been overrated (Kansas State) and some have been underrated (TCU). WVU also seems underrated, and with a bit more talent than in the recent past.
With that said, let’s see how that talent stacks up against the Mountaineers’ opponents.
Aug. 30, WVU vs. Alabama (at Atlanta): The latest theory is Alabama seems in turmoil. Nick Saban has had trouble naming a starting quarterback. There’s a new offensive coordinator. Star defensive end A’Shawn Robinson has a sprained knee. Heck, there’s even been concern about poor quarterback-center exchanges in Tuscaloosa. Perhaps that will allow WVU to get off to a good start. In the age of the Ice Bucket Challenge, though, the cold water on that theory is Alabama running backs T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry. Alabama, 31-14.
Sept. 6, Towson at WVU: Cleveland Browns fans know about the quality of Towson’s program. Ex-Tiger back Terrance West is challenging Ben Tate at tailback for their team. Luckily for the Mountaineers, though, this Towson team isn’t the same that played for an FCS title last year. Seventeen seniors are gone, and in their places are many redshirt and true freshmen. Junior QB Connor Frazier is a new starter. Expect a nice Towson defensive line, but WVU should be fine. WVU, 40-21.
Sept. 13, WVU at Maryland: Nationally, college fans might yawn at this matchup, but WVU fans know the importance of this one after last season’s 37-0 Terrapin victory. Another face plant by the Mountaineers could signal another long season. Maryland returns fine 210-pound QB C.J. Brown, outstanding receiver Stefon Diggs and ex-WVU wideout Deon Long. There are few concerns in College Park, yet they are generally regarded as the fifth-best team in the Big Ten East. And if the game were in Morgantown, West Virginia would be favored. WVU, 28-21.
Sept. 20, Oklahoma at WVU: This Sooners team is one many believe to be overrated. I’m not one of the many, though. Bob Stoops has a loaded senior class. The team is deep at offensive line. The defensive line is a strength. It was a blow when five-star back Joe Mixon was suspended, but sophomores Alex Ross and Keith Ford will be fine. Expect OU dual-threat QB Trevor Knight to start slow but finish fast against WVU’s defense. Oklahoma, 42-24.
Oct. 4, Kansas at WVU: Kansas coach Charlie Weis lost his top two running backs (Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox) in preseason camp to injuries. That means he’ll have to pair a junior college transfer, De’Andre Mann, with sophomore QB Montell Cozart. Expect a heavy run game from the Jayhawks and a decent defense with linebacker Ben Heeney. The Mountaineers, however, should win. As should have been the case last season. WVU, 31-21.
Oct. 11, WVU at Texas Tech: Had it not been for Tech’s win over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, the hype over Kliff Kingsbury would have already cleared. After starting 7-0 last season the Red Raiders lost five straight. (Sound familiar?) Tech QB Davis Webb is hot and cold and turnover prone. The Mountaineers will be underdogs, but have more talent. WVU, 42-38.
Oct. 18, Baylor at WVU: Can WVU take the shine off Baylor’s helmets this season? There’s a distinct possibility. The game is in Morgantown. The Mountaineers should be more confident. Baylor’s defense lacks many returning starters. The problems for WVU: Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is excellent, receiver Antwan Goodley was called “the most explosive athlete in college football” by NFL.com, and Shock Linwood is more than a decent back. Baylor, 35-24.
Oct. 25, WVU at Oklahoma State: I honestly feel West Virginia has better athletes across the board than Oklahoma State. No Power Five school returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, and they start the season against Florida State. (Good luck, J.W. Walsh.) That said, the feel from here is WVU will be in a funk in Stillwater and fine OSU receiver Jhajuan Seales will take advantage. OKLAHOMA STATE, 30-17.
Nov. 1, TCU at WVU: If the hosts win this game it could prove to be a statement. The Horned Frogs are very underrated with six offensive starters back and nine on defense — minus standout defensive end Devonte Fields. Coach Gary Patterson has talent via defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, safety Sam Carter and Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel at QB. Expect the Frogs to air it out, but ... WVU, 40-38.
Nov. 8, WVU at Texas: Texas is loaded with talent. If quarterback David Ash and receiver Jaxson Shipley stay healthy, watch out. There may be some questions along the offensive line, but not many. Backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray will both play on Sundays. And the defense, with standouts like Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed, could be the Big 12’s best. Texas, 48-20.
Nov. 20, Kansas State at WVU: Hmm, a 7 p.m. Thursday game in Morgantown. Think that favors the Mountaineers? Maybe. K-State’s Bill Snyder seems to have WVU’s number — and a nice one-two offensive punch of QB Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. (Expect, for once, the Wildcats to pass to run, rather than vice versa.) But the Kansas State defense is shaky. WVU, 33-28.
Nov. 29, WVU at Iowa State: Iowa State went 3-9 last year and is installing a new offense under former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino, now the Cyclones’ offensive coordinator. It has a new QB in Sam Richardson. There is absolutely, positively no way this team should defeat the Mountaineers. But it will. Iowa State, 28-27.
Final record: 6-6, Armed Forces Bowl.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.