Despite being picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 by the media there is plenty of optimism surrounding West Virginia leading into the 2017 season.
Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier has been cleared to start the season coming off of an NCAA suspension and after sitting out last season due to transfer rules.
Grier will have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including 2016 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Justin Crawford in the backfield and the return of former quarterback-turned-receiver David Sills.
While a sixth-place finish seems a little low, the Mountaineers’ schedule is much tougher compared to last season. Opening the season on a neutral field against old Big East foe Virginia Tech and games at Kansas State and at Oklahoma highlight some of the challenges that lie ahead.
So where will West Virginia fall in the Big 12 pecking order? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on the Mountaineers’ realistic 2017 win/loss projection.
West Virginia State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Jeremy Simon (@JSi07)
The Mountaineers should complete the first half of their season unscathed. It is the latter part of the slate that will be the true test.
Oklahoma State has always been a tough opponent for the Mountaineers and this season should be no different. Likewise the Mountaineers have not fared well at Kansas State as a member of the Big 12.
The last two games of the season could potentially have large consequences for both the Mountaineers and the Big 12 conference with WVU finishing against Texas (home) and Oklahoma (road). The Mountaineers should finish better than sixth place in the conference, but not by much.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Mountaineers will be an interesting team to watch this year in the Big 12. I’ve got coach Dana Holgorsen’s team at 7-5 but 8-4 or even 9-3 wouldn’t be a surprise. This team has its share of question marks – but also a lot of upside. Transfer quarterback Will Grier adds a big-play element to the passing attack, while a deep group of running backs – led by senior Justin Crawford – anchors the ground game. The line loses standout center Tyler Orlosky and is the biggest question mark on offense. For the second year in a row, coordinator Tony Gibson has a significant rebuilding effort on defense. Only two full-time starters – linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and safety Kyzir White – return for the season opener, but safety Dravon Askew-Henry is back from injury and is a huge addition for a rebuilding secondary. Swing games against TCU and Kansas State are on the road. However, West Virginia gets Oklahoma State and Texas at home.
Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna)
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has raved about his conference’s competitive balance, and, outside of Kansas, he’s not exactly wrong. Of course, that means little in the chase for a College Football Playoff bid, when several good-but-not-dominant teams can cannibalize each other.
Case in point: WVU. Dana Holgorsen’s bunch is coming off a 10-win season, has former Florida quarterback Will Grier and a ton of talented skill players. On any given day, the Mountaineers can beat anyone. They’ve done it in the past — ruining Baylor’s playoff hopes in 2014 — and they could do it again this year, when Oklahoma State comes to town.
Of course, WVU has just enough holes on the offensive line, and on defense, to cost it other games along the way. Wins at Kansas State and Oklahoma seem like longshots, but several others look like toss-ups: Virginia Tech, TCU and Texas. The opener against the Hokies will be a good test, as Virginia Tech is coming off a 10-win season as well but has a ton to replace offensively. It’s a game that, should WVU want to have a successful season, it will probably need to win. If not? Buckle up. It could be an uneven year in Morgantown, with plenty of highs and lows to go around.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The Mountaineers are a trendy Top 25 team in the preseason and when looking at their backfield and Dana Holgorsen's track record of developing receivers, it's easy to see why. The freshly-eligible Will Grier should be a solid upgrade from Skyler Howard as a passer and West Virginia has one of the best groups at running back in the conference. The glaring flaw is the defense, which loses a ton in the one area that is a problem in the Big 12 – the secondary. The back-loaded schedule may help some but this could be a bit of a rebuilding year in Morgantown.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism)
The Mountaineers have a remarkably consistent program. Since 2012, they've missed a bowl game one time.
This season could be their second. Despite the addition of talented quarterback Will Grier from Florida, dependable receivers Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts have departed, creating a huge void out wide.
More concerning, WVU lost loads of standouts from last season's defense: Nearly 60 percent of the team's tackles from 2016 are gone.
Chances are that the 'Eers will be sitting right on cut line for bowl eligibility at the end of the year. If they get upset early in the year at – don't laugh – Kansas, they might find themselves home for the holidays.