Will WVU rebound in 2014?
West Virginia enters its third season in the Big 12 with plenty of work to do. The Mountaineers are just 6-12 in conference play over the last two years and finished 4-8 overall in 2013.
Coach Dana Holgorsen is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the nation. However, quarterback play is a question mark for West Virginia in 2014, especially if Clint Trickett struggles to return to full strength early in the year.
The Mountaineers weren’t as bad on defense as the numbers indicated last season. Injuries played a role in the final statistics, but this unit is primed for improvement under the direction of first-year coordinator Tony Gibson.
Coming off a 4-8 mark last year, there’s enormous pressure on Holgorsen to show improvement in 2014.
Of course, that’s not going to be easy with a schedule that features games against Alabama and Maryland in non-conference play.
Related: WVU 2014 Preview | Big 12 Predictions | Big 12 All-Conference Team
The Expert Panel:
Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), EerSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Early Game-by-Game Predictions for West Virginia in 2014
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Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of Texas, West Virginia is the biggest wildcard in the Big 12 this year. The Mountaineers have the talent to top last year’s record, but the schedule is just brutal. I think it’s likely this team will be more competitive on the field and struggle to show any improvement on the win column. Non-conference games against Alabama and Maryland leave little room for error to get to a bowl, and West Virginia plays swing games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road. Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell should help the rushing attack, and the defense returns six starters, while rising stars in cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph should help bolster a secondary that finished last in the Big 12 in 2013. Admittedly, my projection of West Virginia to get to three wins seems low. However, I’m just not sure the schedule is conducive to major improvement in the win column. This will be a better team in 2014, but it may not show in the final win tally.
Aaron Dickens, (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Fit is an extremely underrated aspect of any coaching hire in college football -- just ask Tommy Tuberville -- and I think West Virginia's last 18 games have shown that Dana Holgorsen isn't a great fit for the Mountaineers. Holgorsen hasn't forgotten how to coach in the last two years, but for whatever reason the 'Eers are trending downward and his tenure seems destined to end sooner than later.
The cruel part is that WVU would probably be a bowl team were it not for non-conference games away from Morgantown against Alabama and Maryland. Give Baylor's non-conference schedule to the 'Eers and there's little doubt in my mind that the Mountaineers would hit the six-win mark.
Clint Trickett is an obvious X-factor for WVU. He was seemingly learning Holgorsen's system on the fly last season and was further limited by a nagging shoulder injury. Trickett is fully healthy -- he sat out spring practice -- and is presumably more comfortable in Holgorsen's Air Raid offense, so it will be interesting to see how much he has improved.
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Dana Holgorsen was an offensive genius for over a decade. I don't believe he suddenly lost it. I look for WVU's offense to get back up and running, and an improved defense will be adequate enough to help when the offense sputters.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Mountaineers should be much better in 2014 but I'm not sure if the record will show that. A brutal non-conference slate makes getting to a bowl game or improving on last year's record highly unlikely. Kansas and TCU at home are the best shots at wins within the league while road wins in Ames and Lubbock will be tough to come by. Five wins feels like a best case scenario and that feels like a big reach for a team that has fallen off the map competitively.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
After a disastrous end to the 2012 season and an equally awful 2013, West Virginia should be an improved team in 2014. Unfortunately, that won't show up in the Mountaineers' record.
WVU was plagued by subpar quarterback play last season, enabling opposing defenses to key in on what could have been a decent running game. If senior Clint Trickett can stay healthy, it should at least give Dana Holgorsen's team a little stability under center. The players at the skill positions won't exactly keep opponents up at night, though, which means Holgo will have to rely on this patented creativity to manufacture some points. Defensively, the 'Eers have experience and should be solid. A wildcard will be what long-time Penn State assistant Tom Bradley brings to the D as WVU's new defensive line coach.
The biggest hurdle for Holgo's crew looks to be the schedule. Notably, WVU is playing almost anything resembling a 50-50 game on the road: Maryland, Texas Tech, OSU and ISU all host the Mountaineers this year. Factor in almost assured loss to Alabama in a neutral site contest and bowl eligibility starts to appear more and more remote.
On the whole, the last 18 games or so haven't been kind to West Virginia. Right now, it's hard to see things turning around quickly.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
West Virginia still has a long way to go before the Mountaineers get back to where they were before joining the Big 12. Enough went wrong last season that it’s tough to picture West Virginia struggling as much as it did last season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State. A bowl game is an uphill battle. Clint Trickett’s toughness and the arrival of Rushel Shell should solidify the backfield, enough to tease a bowl game as long as West Virginia can beat teams like Maryland, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State here. I’ve picked West Virginia to split those toss-up games to fall to 5-7.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It could be another long season for West Virginia fans, and that doesn't bode well for head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers sputtered on offense and imploded on defense last season, and it's tough for me to see things getting better this fall. A strong start to the season would be huge, but that's not going to happen with Alabama on tap in the Georgia Dome. The one home non-conference game (Towson) and the date with Kansas are the only "guaranteed" wins that I see. I'm not saying that West Virginia won't finish with more than two wins, but with a home slate that includes Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, it's hard for me to see this Mountaineers team pile up the wins on the road.