It's been a weird, wild offseason for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Weirder than most, given the team suddenly parting ways with defensive coordinator Vic Koenning last month and replacing him with a by-committee approach of assistants.
Longtime coordinator Jeff Casteel, who called the defense in Morgantown from 2003-11, returned as an analyst during the winter but was promoted to outside linebackers coach following Koenning's departure. Casteel is sure to take on a larger role crafting the defensive game plan than previously expected. And he'll have a more talented roster to work with, especially with newcomer Tony Fields II now in the mix his transfer from Arizona in August. Fields made 36 starts and 287 career tackles for the Wildcats and decided to follow safety Scottie Young Jr. from Tucson despite interest from Texas, Minnesota, and others. Both Fields and Young are likely to push for starting jobs on a Mountaineers defense that ranked 73rd nationally in scoring (28.8 ppg) and 74th in total defense (399.3 ypg).
But even with the turnover on the defensive side of the ball, West Virginia has more questions on offense. Can quarterback Austin Kendall regain his starting spot after Jarret Doege led the Mountaineers to two wins in the final three contests last season? Will running back Leddie Brown find more room to run behind a young offensive line after WVU ranked No. 128 in rushing offense (73.3 ypg) a year ago? And can receivers Sam James and T.J. Simmons — like head coach Neal Brown — build upon a promising, yet ultimately disappointing transition season in 2019? With the official Big 12 schedule now up to date, we offer our game-by-game predictions for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Neal Brown has West Virginia moving in the right direction, but a winning record might be a year away. The 10-game slate doesn’t provide much margin for error, as the Mountaineers face tough road trips to Iowa State, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Defense should be the strength of West Virginia’s 2020 team, especially with Darius and Dante Stills back to anchor the trenches. The addition of Arizona transfer Tony Fields should help at linebacker, and sophomore Tykee Smith is a rising star in the secondary. Offensively, the Mountaineers need more production out of the ground attack after averaging less than 80 rushing yards a game in 2019. Improving a struggling line would help West Virginia’s ground game and offensive production overall. Quarterback Jarrett Doege gave the offense a spark late in the year, and if he continues to build on that finish, getting to 5-5 isn’t out of reach.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I am still of the belief that Neal Brown is the right man to lead the West Virginia football program. However, an offseason that's been impacted by the coronavirus and other circumstances is not going to help him as he seeks to mold the Mountaineers to match his vision. The disruptions and a roster that's still coming together will mean plenty more growing pains are ahead for WVU but I also could see this team pulling off a surprise before all is said and done.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@CFBWinningEdge)
Without the previously scheduled neutral-site opener against Florida State, the odds of West Virginia opening 1-0 are much higher now that FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky is the first opponent up for the Mountaineers. A trip to Stillwater and Big 12 title contender Oklahoma State is a much tougher draw for the conference opener Sept. 26 than Kansas State, however. But if WVU is to make a run at bowl eligibility, it couldn’t have asked for a better slate in October with winnable games against rebuilding Baylor, perennial doormat Kansas, Texas Tech, and K-State. The final stretch is brutal, but if the Mountaineers can build momentum with a 4-2 start, or thereabouts, West Virginia could play spoiler as Texas, TCU, Oklahoma, and Iowa State jockey for postseason position.
(Top photo courtesy of wvusports.com)