Bruce Feldman Likes What He Sees From the Mountaineers
The Athletic is a subscription-based sports website that is accumulating some of the best journalists in the business.
The two-year-old site is choosing to expand while others like FOXsports.com, ESPN.com and SI.com are reducing their work forces.
The Athletic has accumulated writing talent like Stewart Mandel, Ken Rosenthal and Dana O’Neil, and recently it added college football insider Bruce Feldman.
Feldman continues to work for FOX on the television side, and it’s that dual role as TV reporter and college football writer that brought him to the Big 12 Media Days at The Star in Frisco, Texas, earlier this week.
Feldman got a chance to ask plenty of questions during the Big 12 Media Days, but the microphone also turned to him for a while, getting his perspective on the league’s pecking order and West Virginia’s fortunes.
“I’m actually surprised they’re not No. 1,” Feldman said of WVU’s No. 2 ranking in the Big 12’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. “They have Will Grier and a lot of first-line talent. I think they have some explosive skill guys and a really good offensive tackle (Yodny Cajuste). Oklahoma obviously has Lincoln Riley back, but no Baker Mayfield. I still think Oklahoma is really good, but I don’t see the same level of star power (as WVU). To me this is the year for West Virginia. I think they have everything they need. As long as they can stay relatively healthy, I think they should be the favorite in the Big 12.
“They have a great trigger man who makes a lot of big plays, two really good receivers, a good offensive line,” he added. “That’s everything Dana Holgorsen needs, plus a good young stable of backs. This is a team who should win 10 games.”
With eight starters returning from last year’s offensive unit that averaged 34.5 points a game, West Virginia’s questions heading in to 2018 aren’t on that side of the ball. The Mountaineer defense is the area of concern. With six starters back from a group that allowed 31.5 points a game, WVU’s biggest worries are if it can get enough stops.
“I think they are always in an underdog role,” Feldman said of West Virginia’s defense. “A couple of years ago they only had three defensive starters back, but they were actually pretty good.
“With David Long, he is the best defensive player Tony (Gibson, WVU’s defensive coordinator) has had there in a long time,” added Feldman. “Having him back to build around is key.
“My question is how good are they on the defensive line. Is West Virginia good enough and deep enough in the defensive front to be a playoff team?”
The Mountaineers’ defensive line returns two starters in Ezekiel Rose and Reese Donahue. But after that, though, there are a lot of new faces. WVU has high hopes for sophomore Darius Stills, as well as his younger brother, freshman Dante Stills, and grad transfers Jabril Robinson and Kenny Bigelow are expected to make immediate impacts. Admittedly, though, West Virginia is trying to fit together a number of new pieces to make a cohesive defensive line.
“Oklahoma isn’t great on defense either,” noted Feldman. “They have personnel that can pass the eyeball test, especially when it comes to the big people in the front seven.
“West Virginia has had good DBs. They’ve recruited well and developed well. But it’s those front guys that are the question. And the margin of error is smaller at West Virginia because of that.”
Individually quarterback Will Grier and receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings get a lot of attention, and Feldman thinks all three warrant that hype.
“I think the numbers are going to be there for (Grier) to be a legitimate Heisman contender,” explained Feldman, who is a 1992 graduate of the University of Miami (Fla.). “The thing is they can’t stub their toe and lose to a team they probably should beat. I think as long as they are a top 10 team, he’ll be a legit Heisman candidate. If you look, Baker is gone and there are a lot of good running backs who are no longer there. This is a defensive line dominated 2018. You’re going to have to have some skilled guys emerge. (Grier) is going to put up big numbers. I think the question is will they win enough, and I think they will. I think he will go to New York (as a Heisman finalist), and then from there it’s just a matter of how the cards play out.”
Grier should be greatly helped by the experienced, senior receivers at his disposal.
“Sills is a great story. As everyone knows, he committed to (then UCS coach) Lane Kiffin as a kid quarterback, But that didn’t work out. Now he’s at receiver, and he’s really talented, really athletic and really works at it. He put up big numbers,” Feldman said.
“They also have another guy in Gary Jennings who is big and physical and really explosive. He’s a great receiver, too. It helps that David has this great chemistry with Will Grier. It also helps there are two of these guys, plus those running backs, and they are going to put up these huge numbers. Dana is about as good as there is when it comes to designing things and being creative.”