Things have finally settled down for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Following an offseason that included head coach Dana Holgorsen leaving for Houston and Neal Brown arriving from Troy, and seemingly constant movement of players into and out of the transfer portal (including a trio of projected starters leaving Morgantown), WVU can finally focus on the 2019 season ahead.
Of course, the busy offseason will likely impact how things play out given all the new faces. First and foremost, Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall has the inside track to replace star quarterback Will Grier, but he'll have to officially beat out Camping World Bowl starter Jack Allison for the job.
Elsewhere, T.J. Simmons was already in line to start following the graduation of receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings, but following the spring departure of Marcus Simms, Simmons is the most experienced receiver returning. The addition of former Florida State wideout and blue-chip recruit George Campbell should help. On the offensive line, the Mountaineers lost starting center Matt Jones to transfer, Isaiah Hardy to graduation, and Yodny Cajuste to the NFL.
The Mountaineers also lost super-talented linebackers David Long Jr. and Brendon Ferns to the NFL draft and medical retirement, respectively. And the secondary was the unit hit hardest of all, losing five players to transfer, including projected starters Kenny Robinson and Derrek Pitts.
In all, West Virginia must replace 91.65 percent of its passing yardage, 74.38 percent of its receiving yardage, and 45.63 percent of its tackles from the 2019 roster. Many of the players who will be called upon to make up for that lost production have yet to suit up for the Mountaineers.
And the 2019 schedule is difficult as well, including the annual nine-team Big 12 slate (including five conference games away from Milan Puskar Stadium), two non-conference matchups against fellow Power 5 teams, and a season opener against one of the top FCS programs in the country.
Given all the turnover, and the tough matchups littered throughout the year, expectations are modest.
Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win-loss projection for West Virginia in 2019.
West Virginia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Projecting West Virginia to finish 6-6 might be a tad optimistic, but I’m going to bank on new coach Neal Brown and guess the Mountaineers find a way to get bowl eligible. In addition to the coaching transition, West Virginia enters 2019 with several question marks. There’s a new quarterback (likely to be Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall), the offensive line needs to find more depth and a couple of starters, and the linebacker and secondary units will require some overhaul. While those are all issues, key swing games versus Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and NC State come in Morgantown. And with two of those contests coming in November, that gives Brown plenty of time to figure things out in his debut.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It will be an interesting season in Morgantown, with a new coach (Neal Brown for Dana Holgorsen) and new quarterback (TBD for Will Grier). The Mountaineers have two intriguing non-conference games against Power 5 teams in the first few weeks of the season; the guess here is that they lose at Missouri and beat NC State at home. October could be tough; WVU opens Big 12 with games against the best three teams in the league (according to Athlon Sports) and then a road trip to improving Baylor. The last stretch is far more manageable, but the Mountaineers will probably be out of the title chase at that point.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
I took the easy way out and let the numbers talk, using the game-by-game point spread projections from my college football analytics outlet, CFB Winning Edge. According to those preseason projections, West Virginia is favored in six games and would win 5.84 on average. There are quite a few toss-ups on the schedule with nine games projected to fall within a one-touchdown margin, and WVU's win probabilities range from 64 percent to 37 percent in those contests. Looking through the specific matchups, the Mountaineers won’t even benefit from two idle weeks. West Virginia is off ahead of its home game against Texas Oct. 5, and also prior to its trip to Baylor Oct. 31. However, the Longhorns will also be idle the previous weekend, and because Halloween falls on a Thursday, the Bears will have the same 11 days to prep as the Mountaineers.
Eight wins seem possible if everything were to break right, Neal Brown clicked with his new roster and all the transfers fulfilled their potential. But eight losses also are a possibility. Therefore, 6-6 seems right.