#24 West Virginia Football 2017 Preview

West Virginia Mountaineers
Overall Rank: #24
#5 Big 12
West Virginia comes into the 2017 season with plenty of confidence as they won ten games and were in the Big 12 Title conversation well into November before losing to Oklahoma at home 56-28.  Florida transfer Will Grier is going to be eligible at quarterback and the offensive skill positions are loaded so the Mountaineers will be in every game. The question is can defensive coordinator Tony Gibson rebuild the defense in a timely fashion.
2016 Record: 10-3, 7-2
2016 Bowl: Russell Athletic Bowl vs. Miami (L 14-31)
Coach: Dana Holgorsen (44-31 at West Virginia, 44-31 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jake Spavital
Defensive Coordinator: Tony Gibson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Justin Crawford, RB, 1,184 yards
Passing: Chris Chugunov, QB, 15 yards
Receiving: Ka’Raun White, WR, 583 yards
Tackles: Al Rasheed-Benton, MLB, 80
Sacks: Kyzir White, SPUR, 3.0
Interceptions: Al Rasheed-Benton, MLB, 1; Marvin Gross Jr., S, 1
Other Key Returnees:  LG Kyle Bosch, WR Jovon Durante, RT Colton McKivitz, WLB David Long, K Mike Molina, P Billy Kinney, NT Xavier Pegues, SLB Xavier Preston, FS Devon Askew-Henry
Key Losses:  C Tyler Orlosky, CB Rasul Douglas, WR Shelton Gibson, WR Daikiel Shorts, QB Skylar Howard, LG Adam Pankey, CB Maurice Fleming, RB Rushel Shell, DL Christian Brown, DL Noble Nwachukwu, DL Darrien Howard
Will Grier should be able to step right in and elevate the West Virginia offense in the passing game in 2017. Grier had a 65.8 percent completion percentage back in 2015 for Florida as he led the Gators to a 6-0 start prior to being suspended by the NCAA. Justin Crawford should ease the transition for Grier in the running game after rushing for 1,184 yards. Ka’Raun White will lead a group of wide receivers that has some talent but will need some time to develop in the early portion of the season. Kyle Bosch is the most talented returning starter at left guard and will need to elevate his game even more as left tackle Yodny Cajuste is working his way back from injury.
Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson has a fun challenge ahead of him in 2017 as just three starters return for the Mountaineers. Al Rasheed-Benton is the top returning tackler with 80 and its fair to say that Rasheed-Benton will need to have a 100-120 tackle type of season in 2017 if he can stay healthy. Xavier Pegues is going to have to make strides in his senior season at nose tackle as the entire defensive line from 2016 is gone. Pegues will need to lead sophomores Adam Shuler II and Reese Donahue early in the season until they can get rolling at defensive end. Kyzir White and Dravon Askew-Henry are going to have to carry the secondary to pick up the slack for losing players like Rasul Douglas to the NFL Draft. Askew-Henry can carry a secondary on his back if he is fully recovered from his ACL injury. The kicking game returns Mike Molina and Billy Kinney at kicker and punter, respectively. Molina needs to be more consistent with his kicks as West Virginia is going to have more close games this season.
The Bottom Line:
FedEx Field will be the site of the Virginia Tech game to open the season on Sunday September 3rd. These two regional rivals are finally getting back together on the field for the first time since 2005 in the battle for the Black Diamond Trophy. A trip to TCU on October 7th will be a landmine for the Mountaineers as the Horned Frogs will be a tough out in Fort Worth. Next, after battling Oklahoma State in Morgantown on October 28th, the month of November will be difficult after the Iowa State game on November 4th. Kansas State awaits the Mountaineers in Manhattan, Kansas on November 11th ahead of a home game with Texas and then closing the regular season at Oklahoma. If West Virginia can go 2-1 in that stretch they will have a shot to win 9-10 games again this season.
Projected Bowl: Liberty Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 228.4 (25th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 257.2 (42, 7)
Total Offense: 485.5 (17, 6)
Scoring Offense: 31.2 (50, 7)
Rushing Defense: 168.2 (60, 3)
Pass Defense: 257.7 (104, 6)
Total Defense: 425.9 (74, 3)
Scoring Defense: 24.0 (35, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.31 (38, 3)
Sacks: 1.77 (89, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 1.92 (52, 2)