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Big 12 B-movies: West Virginia may really face an odd year

Mountaineers will face hard times replacing an entire defense

Russell Athletic Bowl - Miami v West Virginia Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With the 2017 season (finally) approaching we’re analyzing the situation in the Big 12. We’re here to breakdown every team and give you our 2017 outlook.

Let’s get going.

PUBLISHED:

Kansas

Iowa State

Baylor

Texas

TCU

Kansas State

STADIUM: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium (1980)

SEATING CAPACITY: 60,000

2017 RECRUITMENT RANKINGS: 56th (8th in Big 12)

ALL-TIME RECORD vs. TEXAS TECH: 4-2-0

2016

Despite achieving a 10-victory season, the Mountaineers can have some regrets for 2016, as they won six straight games to begin the season but later fell to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the moment when they could take a shot at the Big 12 title.

Moreover, West Virginia had a chance to win their most important Bowl since the Orange Bowl 2011, but many injuries hit the team late in the season. Consequently, the team could not survive a very-average Miami team and badly lost 31-14.

On the other hand, Dana Holgorsen’s team went 4-0 in one-possession games, trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter against Kansas State before winning by 1, and barely survived Baylor, that was struggling and lost the five previous games by an average of 20 points. It means ten wins could really be less.

The dual-threat quarterback Skyler Howard led a run-oriented offense, but he proved to be reliable also in the passing game, as his 3,328 yards were 27th in the nation and 4th in the Big 12.

In addition, Howard, running back Justin Crawford, and the rest of the backfield produced 228 rushing yards per game, ranking 25th in the FBS system, with Crawford averaging unbelievable 7.26 yards per attempt.

The defense had a fluctuating trend, as it was outstanding in creating turnovers but weak in establishing pressure on opposing runners.

2017

West Virginia is second to last in the country in returning production, so we can probably expect some sort of worsening on both the sides of the ball.

Howard is gone, like the second running back, two out of three best wide receivers and five out of six offensive linemen who had at least one start in their career.

Therefore, the offense will mainly rely on former backups and transfers, and from this last category comes the new quarterback, Will Grier. He comes from Florida and has a turbulent story, as in 2015 he earned the starting job for the Gators, showed to be really promising, but he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was suspended for the entire season.

Grier transferred almost immediately, sat out in 2016 and now he’s ready to restart his career. He’s a dual-threat quarterback like Howard, but he showed to be more accurate and reliable in the passing game than his former teammate.

This is an occasion to see if Holgorsen will make again some steps towards the Air raid offense in which he grew up under coach Mike Leach. It is a real possibility, considering that the new offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, comes from Cal, another college with an extreme propensity for the passing game.

Certainly, at the moment the player who offers the greatest guarantees on offense is Crawford, as he clearly aims another 1000-yard season. He is backed up by two interesting youngsters, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway.

The biggest challenge for Holgorsen concerns the other two offensive units, as only Ka'Raun White and Jovonte David have some significant experience among wide receivers. Similarly, only senior left guard Kyle Bosch and right tackle Colton McKivitz started some games last year.

If the offense has some question marks, the defense has plenty of them. The following tab shows 2016 stats, considering only players who recorded at least 10 tackles in 2016. The barred players are the ones who graduated.

Returning players are requested an important step forward both in their performances and helping former-backup starters. An essential player is safety Dravon Askew-Henry, true freshman All-American in 2014, who skipped the entire 2016 with a knee injury.

SCHEDULE

Despite Grier, Crawford, and Askew-Henry, it is hard to imagine something more than six or seven wins for the Mountaineers, as they rebuild a lot offensively and have to replace almost every player on defense. Virginia Tech is heavily favorite at the moment, while the other three September games are within reach.

After this, we can expect three or four wins in the Big 12, maybe a Bowl bid, and a standby year waiting for better days that are not so far.