West Virginia is coming off an 8-5 campaign, but were just 4-5 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers did benefit from an easy schedule. Georgia Southern was the only team they beat in the regular season that ended up with a winning record.
West Virginia struggled against the best teams in the Big 12. They lost by 20 at Oklahoma, 24 at Baylor and 30 at TCU. Though they did lose in overtime at home to Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers have gone just 36-28 in the five years under head coach Dana Holgorsen. The best season coming in his first year on the job in 2011, when they went 10-3.
Looking ahead to 2016, West Virginia could struggle to match last year’s 8-win mark. While the Mountaineers have 8 starters back on offense, only 4 return on the defensive side of the ball.
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|10/15||@ Texas Tech|
|10/29||@ Oklahoma State|
|11/26||@ Iowa State|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
West Virginia will open the season with a quality test at home against SEC foe Missouri. It’s a game the Mountaineers will be heavily favored in, but clearly not a guarantee win.
If they can take down the Tigers, there’s reason to be optimistic about a 4-0 start. They have another tough game against BYU in Landover, but will have a slight edge coming off a bye. They then figure to be favored at home against Kansas State.
It will be important for the Mountaineers to get off to a strong start. West Virginia has 4 of their final 8 on the road and three brutal home games against TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor.
Getting those three at home gives them a shot at a big upset, but it also means their winnable Big 12 games are on the road.
West Virginia’s offense put up a respectable 34.0 ppg and 480 ypg, but it came in a different way than year’s past. The Mountaineers rushed for 228 yards/game. Their most since putting up 297 ypg back in 2007 as a member of the Big East.
Part of the problem was the offensive line struggled in pass protection. They also didn’t seem to trust starting quarterback Skyler Howard. Those same concerns would have lingered into 2016, if it wasn’t for the bowl game.
Howard quieted his critics with an unthinkable performance against the Sun Devils. He completed 28 of 51 attempts for 532 yards and 5 touchdowns. If Howard can carry over that success into his senior season, look out.
Howard will be working behind an experienced offensive line. The Mountaineers have 5 players back who started 6 or more games in 2015. It’s aruguably the most talented unit to date in the Holgorsen era.
West Virginia loses leading rusher Wendell Smallwood, who had 1,519 yards and 9 touchdowns. However, they get back senior Rushel Shell and keep an eye out for true freshman Kennedy McKoy. Howard also helps out in the running game. He was third on the team with 502 yards and 6 scores.
The top two targets in the passing game are back in Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts. These two combined had 10 catches for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns in the bowl game.
While the offense looks to be in great shape, there’s huge concerns with the defense. Not only do they have just 4 starters coming back, but they lose 6 of their top 7 tacklers.
If there’s a bright spot with only having 4 starters returning, it’s that two of them come up front. The Mountaineers return senior defensive ends Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown. The key will be how they replace nose tackle Kyle Rose.
The biggest question mark is at linebacker, where all 4 starters have to be replaced. That includes two NFL draft picks in Nick Kwiatkoski and K.J. Dillon. Not only is the unit going to be inexperienced, but it lacks talent.
The secondary gets back both starting safeties in Drvon Askew-Henry and Jarrod Harper. However, Harper only started last year because star safety Karl Joseph was lost after 4 games. Joseph was still taken in the 1st round of the NFL draft. They also lose both starting corners, include All-Big 12 1st-Teamer Daryl Worley.
Regular Season Win Total
Big 12 Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
Even if Howard is able to carry over his bowl game success, I don’t think West Virginia will be a surprise contender in the Big 12. With that said, the Mountaineers may play a big role in who wins the conference. Morgantown is no easy place to win for opposing teams. Don’t be surprised if they pull off a big upset or two at home.
As good as West Virginia has the potential to be offensively, they could be equally as bad on defense. When you can’t stop the opposing team from scoring, that makes it really tough to win on the road.
When it’s all said and done, I have West Virginia going just 7-5, despite what I project to be a perfect 4-0 start.
Big 12 Record
Win Total Prediction