Five Factors Critical For WVU To Contend In Big 12 Football
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – With West Virginia’s football camp opening on Sunday, it is time to begin looking forward … but not before we glance over our shoulder one last time.
With the memory of a bowl implosion against Miami just beginning to fade from our minds, it must be remembered that Dana Holgorsen’s sixth year as head coach produced his second 10-victory season as well as tie for second place in the Big 12.
That would make one wonder why — especially with the addition of heralded quarterback in one time wunderkind from Florida, Will Grier, at quarterback — the media selected the Mountaineers to finish sixth this season in the conference.
Whatever, this is not a team to be overlooked for it has weapons, especially on the offensive side of the ball. That offense also has a fresh mind running it in new coordinator Jake Spavital, a Holgorsen protege who went out and got himself some big-time experience at Cal and now returns to blend his views with Holgorsen’s.
One might suggest — especially after Bob Stoops has stepped aside at Oklahoma and been replaced by Lincoln Riley, who has never served as a head coach — that WVU might be the perfect dark horse to win the Big 12.
Certainly, it won’t be easy, but then it never is where WVU is concerned.
So, we try to find five factors that have to click for the Mountaineers to win the Big 12 … not sometime, but at this time.
1. Say what you will, but the world is riding on Grier’s shoulders — especially his throwing one.
All of West Virginia has waited a year for him to become eligible and continue his career that has never known defeat.
He is one fine son of … a coach.
Grier’s intelligent, accurate, wily, has escapability and has the best support group from Holgorsen and Spavital that any QB could ask.
Just one thing.
He better stay healthy.
WVU doesn’t seem to have any strong backup … not as Pat White had with Jarrett Brown or as Clint Trickett had with Skyler Howard.
2. The offensive line better be good enough to not only block for what what should be a strong running game but at protecting Grier.
The line is a huge question mark.
With star center Tyler Orlosky gone, Kyle Bosch takes over as the senior citizen, but Orlosky wasn’t the only loss.
A year ago, Ron Crook and Joe Wickline shared duties coaching the group up front.
Didn’t work, apparently, for Crook is gone to Cincinnati and the veteran Wickline, a proven commodity, is handling matters on his own this season.
Replacing Orlosky is redshirt sophomore Matt Jones, who made big strides in the spring, but that isn’t like facing Virginia Tech, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, so we have to take a wait and see attitude.
Key, too, with left tackle Yodny Cajuste, who much is expected from as as the blindside protector of Grier as he comes back from season-ending knee surgery.
3. The third key is simply another miracle from defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who seems to provide miracles year by year.
Once again, he will craft his 3-3-5 around a slew of new starters. Only four defensive starters return, but it seems that’s the case every year and Gibson finds a way to overcome key injuries to invent a defense that is aggressive and successful.
Two years ago, of course, the ball never bounced the Mountaineers’ way and they didn’t get their normal allotment of turnovers, but last year that changed. Gibson fit in a junior college transfer named Rasul Douglas and the cornerback reached the point that he could soar like an eagle and soared right into being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the return of Dravon Askew-Henry, expected to the leader of the defense last season until he blew out a knee in August, and Kyzir White back at another safety spot and now more familiar with the defense, the talent is there to make an impact.
4. Wouldn’t WVU be better equipped to win the Big 12 if it could find a way to get better field position than it has had over the past few years?
You bet, and one way to do that is to come up with an improved return game, especially on punts.
Holgorsen in recent years has placed such a premium on making sure the ball was caught that he gave up virtually any chance at getting yardage on returns.
Don’t know how that is going to shake out, but there’s a chance that the Mountaineers might be able to make use of diminutive Tevin Bush (5-foot-5 and 168 pounds) as a return man.
He conjures up images of Noel Devine and Tavon Austin and the freshman out of New Orleans offers an intriguing option.
Field position could be improved, too, if Holgorsen lets John Young, owner of a powerful leg, handle kickoffs this season.
5. Finally, WVU has star power … it has to get its players with the ability to play like stars.
You don’t win the Big 12 without star power. Oklahoma has it in Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State has it in Mason Rudolph, both quarterbacks heading toward Heisman Trophy finalists, and WVU will have to have its star players join in contention.
That means a more consistent performance throughout the year by running back Justin Crawford, the leading returning rusher in the Big 12 and a player capable of making big plays and intent on doing it this year; Grier living up to his expectations; Jovon Durante becoming a dangerous weapon at wide receiver that defenses have to account for; Askew-Henry and White spending the fall dragging ball carriers to the turf and receiver Ka’Raun White taking his game near the level his brother, Kevin, reached in his senior season as he later became a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears.