#20 West Virginia 2018 Football Preview

West Virginia Mountaineers
Overall Rank: #20
#2 Big 12
 West Virginia Logo
West Virginia showed flashes of brilliance offensively in 2017 as quarterback Will Grier was highly effective running the Air Raid offense until he went down for the season with a broken finger against Texas. The 2017 season ended with three losses but with a loaded group of wide receivers returning along with a healthy Grier, the excitement level is still high in Morgantown heading into the 2018 season.
2017 Record: 7-6, 5-4
2017 Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Utah (14-30 L)
Coach: Dana Holgorsen (53-37 at West Virginia, 53-37 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jake Spavital
Defensive Coordinator: Tony Gibson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Kennedy McKoy, RB, 596 yards
Passing: Will Grier, QB, 3,490 yards
Receiving: Gary Jennings, WR, 1,096 yards
Tackles: David Long Jr., LB, 76
Sacks: Ezekiel Rose, DE, 4.5
Interceptions: Kenny Robinson, FS, 3
Other Key Returnees:  WR David Sills, LT Yodny Cajuste, LG Josh Sills, C Matt Jones, RT Colton McKivitz, DE Reese Donahue, SPUR Dravon Askew-Henry, P Billy Kinney
Key Losses:  S Kyzir White, CB Mike Daniels, CB Elijah Battle, RB Justin Crawford, OL Kyle Bosch
The Mountaineers, with a healthy Will Grier, are primed to score 45-50 points a game like clockwork. Grier threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdown passes enroute to Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors. Gary Jennings and David Sills lead a very dynamic wide receiving corps that will cause plenty of matchup problems all year long. Jennings was a consistent possession receiver that caught 97 passes for 1,096 yards, while Sills was a big-play receiver with 18 touchdown receptions in 2017. Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons and rising junior Marcus Simms should be in position for strong seasons as well. Kennedy McKoy will be the lead running back to start 2018 after rushing for 596 yards and seven touchdowns last season. In addition, Martell Pettaway and Alec Sinkfield will see plenty of action in the running back rotation. The offensive line is another strength of this team. Yodny Cajuste anchors this veteran group at left tackle and keep an eye on Colton McKivitz as he has the look of an offensive tackle that, like Cajuste, will play on Sunday’s in the NFL.
Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson has his work cut out for him as there is not a ton of depth along the defensive front heading into the 2018 season. Ezekiel Rose is the top returning pass rusher out at defensive end. Kenny Bigelow is a transfer from USC that could provide some nice depth if he can stay healthy. David Long, Jr. is the leading returning tackler out at weakside linebacker and he is going to need to bump up his tackle total to around 95-100 in 2018. There will be two new cornerbacks in Derek Pitts and Hakeem Bailey who will be taking over for Mike Daniels and Elijah Battles. The key for Pitts and Bailey will be to find a way to create turnovers to get extra possessions for the offense. Dravon Askew-Henry takes over for Kyzir White, who is off to the NFL, and his senior leadership is going to be crucial this fall.
Bottom Line:
The schedule for West Virginia is not easy as they play 11 FBS opponents and a salty Bo Pelini led Youngstown State. A neutral site game against Tennessee in Charlotte will start the 2018 season in a game the Mountaineers should win by at least two scores. Two weeks later a return trip to the state of North Carolina awaits as West Virginia will go battle NC State. This game will be an excellent battle of quarterbacks as Will Grier and Ryan Finley should light up the scoreboard all day long. The Big 12 schedule is a bit backloaded as the Mountaineers close with games at Texas, vs. TCU, at Oklahoma State and home against Oklahoma. If West Virginia can go 3-1 in that stretch, they will play in the Big 12 Conference Championship in Arlington in a rematch against the Sooners. Overall, look for about a nine-win regular season and a second-place finish in the Big 12, which will be a nice step forward for the Mountaineers.
Projected Bowl: Alamo Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 150.3 (84th in nation, 5th in Conference)
Passing Offense: 309.3 (13, 4)
Total Offense: 459.6 (20, 4)
Scoring Offense: 34.5 (22, 3)
Rushing Defense: 204.2 (104, 10)
Pass Defense: 241.4 (91, 4)
Total Defense: 445.5 (107, 6)
Scoring Defense: 31.5 (90, 7)
Turnover Margin: -0.54 (105, 8)
Sacks: 1.92 (72, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 1.46 (25, 2)
Madness 2019 NFL Draft Rankings:
#62 Will Grier
Madness 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#145 Dante Stills