If there is ever a year for the West Virginia Mountaineers under Dana Holgorsen to take that leap and compete for a Big 12 title, this is it. Holgorsen has a veteran Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Will Grier, a plethora of weapons at the skill positions, and thanks to some key transfers, the Mountaineers might be just “good enough” on defense to land them a spot in Arlington, Texas, the first weekend in December.
Before West Virginia can think about winning the Big 12, the Mountaineers must find a way to finish ahead of the three teams it lagged behind in the standings last year – Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State. Fittingly, WVU lost to all three in 2017 as well as Texas, another team that has big plans in mind for this fall.
So are the Mountaineers a championship-caliber team in 2018? Athlon Sports polled a few editors and college football contributors share their realistic win/loss projection for West Virginia in 2018.
West Virginia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Mountaineers should be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in 2018. Quarterback Will Grier anchors a high-scoring attack and is surrounded by one of the nation’s top receiving corps as well as a solid offensive line. Additionally, with most of the Big 12 experiencing some turnover or uncertainty at quarterback, having a signal-caller like Grier is a huge boost to West Virginia’s Big 12 title hopes. However, while the Mountaineers can score 40 points a game, this team won’t win the conference without improvement on defense. Coordinator Tony Gibson’s group lost a handful of key players from its 2016 unit and slipped to allowing 6.1 yards a play last fall. The transfer ranks will provide help in the trenches, which is an area of need after giving up 204.2 rushing yards a game last fall. Road trips to Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State are tough, but if West Virginia improves on defense, the offense can score enough to keep this team in the hunt for a trip to the Big 12 title game.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
West Virginia is receiving a bunch of hype as a legitimate candidate to threaten Oklahoma for Big 12 supremacy. This is no doubt a good team — we picked the Mountaineers third in the league — but Dana Holgorsen's club has to improve significantly on the defensive side of the ball to make the Sooners sweat. WVU has two intriguing non-conference games, Tennessee in Charlotte in Week 1 and at NC State two weeks laster. I'm calling for a split in those two. The Mountaineers will be challenged in November when they play Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Staying healthy will determine whether it's a good season or a mediocre one for the Mountaineers because while the starters look pretty good, I'm not sold on the depth for this team. Will Grier and his wide receiving corps should be one of the better combos in the country when it comes to throwing the ball around and the offensive line is good enough to take some of the sting out of finding a new lead back. As much as I'm a fan of what coordinator Tony Gibson does on defense, there are a bunch of question marks on that side of the ball and it could wind up spiraling as WVU hits that extremely tough final month of the season.
Peter Mundo (@PeteMundo)
I have a lot of confidence in this team. Maybe too much? Holgorsen has yet to get over that hump at WVU, but he returns the best quarterback in the year where the position is actually down in the Big 12. Tennessee and NC State will prove tough in the non-conference, but WVU should roll through them and be 3-0 heading into conference play. From there, it’s vs. Kansas State, at Texas Tech, vs. Kansas and at Iowa State. That’s the easier half of the Mountaineers' schedule. K-State and Iowa State aren’t easy and I could see them slipping up in one of these. I believe that’ll be Iowa State, as the Cyclones should have the top defense in the Big 12 that could give WVU problems, and they’re at home.
Out of the bye week is Baylor on a Thursday, followed by what could be one of the sneaky-good games in the Big 12 – WVU at Texas on Nov. 3. If WVU can pull it off, the Mountaineers will be in great position to finish strong and play in the Big 12 Championship Game. TCU has lots of turnover from 2017 and the Mountaineers get Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs on their turf. In fairness, Dana Holgorsen needs every edge he can get when coaching against Patterson, and Morgantown can be that edge. Oklahoma State will be lucky to get to seven wins this season, so I chalk up a win there. Then, it’s OU the final week of the season, who WVU (and everyone in the Big 12 for that matter) has struggled against. But these two teams will be playing each other in back-to-back weeks for the Big 12 title the following week.