There is excitement in Morgantown as the West Virginia Mountaineers hope to continue to improve under head coach Neal Brown. WVU was able to finish strong in 2019, and then jumped out to a 3-1 start last year. Though the Mountaineers suffered close losses to Texas Tech and Texas on the road and were blown out by Iowa State in the regular-season finale, West Virginia was undefeated at home and staged a come-from-behind, 24-21 victory over Army in the Liberty Bowl to cap a 6-4 (4-4 Big 12) campaign and carry momentum into 2021.
Brown has his most experienced roster to date, and though he must replace a few key pieces from what was one of the best defenses in the country, there’s a lot to like about the Mountaineers. Some pollsters have taken notice, as West Virginia received a few votes in the preseason AP Top 25, putting the Mountaineers in striking distance of the upper tier of the Big 12.
Can WVU continue its upward trajectory? Some of the experts at Athlon Sports pick every game on the Mountaineers 2021 football schedule.
West Virginia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2021
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
West Virginia is trending in the right direction under third-year coach Neal Brown, and another step forward in the win column should be attainable in 2021. A defense that led the Big 12 in fewest yards per play and points allowed has to replace key cogs at every level, but there’s enough talent with five returning starters to prevent a major drop in production. Even if the defense regresses a bit, better play on offense could minimize the damage. West Virginia averaged only 26.5 points a game last season, but brings back eight returning starters, including a couple of members of an improving offensive line and running back Leddie Brown. Quarterback Jarret Doege needs more help from his receivers after drops plagued this group in 2020. However, the senior also has to play with more consistency and raise his overall performance for the Mountaineers to contend for a finish in the top four of the Big 12.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
West Virginia has made progress under head coach Neal Brown and this should continue in 2021. However, there are still enough questions remaining that the Mountaineers probably need an upset or two to finish better than in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. The defense was outstanding last season but five starters have to be replaced. This will put more pressure on the offense to produce and while there's plenty of experience (eight returning starters) on that side of the ball, the key will be what kind of production Brown gets from senior quarterback Jarret Doege. WVU also has to navigate some tough road trips, namely against Oklahoma and Iowa State. Getting to a bowl game shouldn't be too difficult but the Mountaineers probably will end up at the back end of the Big 12's postseason pecking order.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@CFBWinningEdge)
First and foremost, I rely heavily on the CFB Winning Edge game-by-game projections, which expect the Mountaineers to be favored in seven games and win 6.21 on average after adding up the individual projected win percentages for each contest. According to those numbers, West Virginia is a favorite in all three non-conference games, but by fewer than three points against both Maryland and Virginia Tech, with a 57 percent chance of victory in either one. It’s likely the Mountaineers split those two, and despite playing Maryland on the road and the Hokies at home, Virginia Tech seems like the tougher matchup.
Opening conference play at Oklahoma is less than ideal, despite the Sooners’ recent early-season struggles. Texas Tech, at Baylor and at TCU (following an idle week) are all winnable games, and WVU is favored in two of those three games. A 4-3 record heading into Halloween weekend is the most likely result, but 5-2 or even 6-1 is possible.
The final stretch is tough but sets up well as West Virginia hosts Iowa State and Oklahoma State before making the trip to Manhattan. The Cowboys are favored in Morgantown, and the Mountaineers favored against K-State, but I flipped the predictions since we can’t expect everything to go according to plan. The home finale is a great opportunity to upset Texas (though the Longhorns are favored by roughly a touchdown), and though Kansas made a strong hire in Lance Leipold, it wouldn’t be wise to expect the Jayhawks to knock off WVU.
Six wins and a bowl bid is a safe expectation. West Virginia could beat Virginia Tech, TCU or Kansas State to get to 7-5 or 8-4, but would also need to avoid potential slip-ups along the way.