#35 West Virginia Football 2016 Preview

West Virginia Mountaineers
Overall Rank: #35
#6 Big 12
It’s do or die time for West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen as he heads into year six in Morgantown. Holgorsen has a 36-28 overall record in five seasons, which includes a trip to the Orange Bowl back when West Virginia was still in the Big East. However, the fans in Morgantown, whether right or wrong, expect more out of the Mountaineers despite playing in a tougher league such as the Big 12. And so far West Virginia has been average in the Big 12 beating teams for the most part that they should beat and struggling against the likes of Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor, especially on the road.
2015 Record: 8-5, 4-5
2015 Bowl: Cactus Bowl vs. Arizona State (W 43-42)
Coach: Dana Holgorsen (36-28 at West Virginia, 36-28 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Wickline
Defensive Coordinator: Tony Gibson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Rushel Shell, RB, 708 yards
Passing: Skyler Howard, QB, 3,145 yards
Receiving: Shelton Gibson, WR, 887 yards
Tackles: Dravon Askew-Henry, S, 59
Sacks: Noble Nwachukwu, DE, 8.5
Interceptions: Dravon Askew-Henry, S, 1; Jeremy Tyler, S, 1
Other Key Returnees: WR Daikiel Shorts, WR Jovon Durante, OL Tyler Orlosky, S Jarrod Harper, K Josh Lambert
Key Losses: RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Jordan Thompson, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, LB Shaq Petteway, LB Jared Barber, LB K.J. Dillon, CB Daryl Worley, DL Kyle Rose
The offense should be just fine once again in 2016 as the Mountaineers had a nice confidence boosting performance in the Cactus Bowl beating Arizona State 43-42. Skylar Howard is back at quarterback and if he can continue to improve and limit the turnovers, then West Virginia should be able to move the ball on just about anyone. Rushel Shell will be the primary go to running back in 2016 and Shell will need to finish well north of 1,000 yards on the ground to keep opposing defenses on their toes all year long. Wide receiver is going to be another strength of this football as there are plenty of quality receivers back for Howard to throw the ball to. Daikiel Shorts caught 45 passes and Shelton Gibson led the team in receiving yards with 887. This combination, along with guys like Gary Jennings and Jovon Durante, are going to cause matchup issues all season long. Defensively, the guys up front led by Noble Nwachukwu, who had 8.5 sacks last season, are going to have to carry a defense that has plenty of question marks heading into the 2016 season.
Will the Mountaineers be able to stop people consistently on the defensive side of the ball? With just three starters back it is going to be a big challenge for Tony Gibson as defensive coordinator to coach up this side of the ball and get West Virginia to play at least at an average level. The secondary is the biggest concern as the Mountaineers lost K.J. Dillon, Karl Joseph and Daryl Worley. And in a league like the Big 12 that throws the ball like crazy, that is going to be a problem especially in the early stages of the season until the rest of the secondary grows and matures as a unit.
The Bottom Line:
The schedule is not as treacherous as last season when West Virginia had to play Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and TCU in consecutive games. Missouri visits to start the season off and will be a great opportunity to build confidence in the defense as the Tigers will be very challenged as an offensive unit in 2016. A neutral site game with BYU on September 24th in Landover, Maryland is going to be a critical one as it would be huge momentum boost for this Mountaineer team to be 3-0 heading into Big 12 play. TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor all visit Morgantown in 2016 and it will help greatly if West Virginia can go 2-1 against those three teams and find a way to get a couple road wins to secure a winning Big 12 record this season. Look for the Mountaineers to win at least eight games with an outside shot at nine if things break the right way and the defense steps up and plays above what the fans and media expect from them.
Projected Bowl: Liberty Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 228.2 (16th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 251.5 (42, 6)
Total Offense: 479.7 (23, 6)
Scoring Offense: 34.0 (35, 6)
Rushing Defense: 158.7 (51, 1)
Pass Defense: 237.8 (82, 5)
Total Defense: 396.5 (61, 2)
Scoring Defense: 24.6 (44, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.69 (15, 3)
Sacks: 2.23 (54, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 2.46 (90, 4)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#181 Brendan Ferns