Mountaineers' debut season under Neal Brown features home games with Texas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and NC State
It's a new era for the West Virginia football program, and fans hope new head coach Neal Brown can help the Mountaineers get over the hump. Though Dana Holgorsen kept West Virginia in the mix for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game throughout the entire 2018 regular season, the Mountaineers finished a disappointing 8-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play after a three-game losing streak — the second straight year WVU lost its last three contests. West Virginia also lost its third straight bowl game under Holgorsen, meaning it's been four years since the Mountaineers entered winter workouts or spring practice with the momentum that comes with a postseason victory.
Brown won’t have the benefit of quarterback Will Grier, standout receivers David Sills V and Gray Jennings, or productive linebacker David Long returning, so expectations are relatively modest for 2019. However, there is plenty of long-term optimism in Morgantown and plenty of building blocks for the new coaching staff to work with this year.
With spring practice in full swing, the 2019 campaign is just around the corner. West Virginia plays its typical nine-game conference schedule, which (as always) includes the longest travel log in the league. The Mountaineers also have scheduled a difficult non-conference slate, starting with one of the top FCS programs in the country (one that has beaten two of the last four FBS opponents it has played), and following with a pair of Power 5 opponents, each coming off a winning season.
Byes: Week 5, Week 9
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. James Madison (Morgantown, W. Va.)
Like many teams across the country, West Virginia opens the 2019 college football season with an FCS opponent. But James Madison isn’t a typical FCS pushover. The Dukes beat SMU in 2015, won the '16 national championship, followed with a 14-1 season in '17, which included a 34-14 win over East Carolina in Week 1 and a 17-13 loss to North Dakota State in the national title game. JMU played NC State tough in the 2018 opener before falling 24-13.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 at Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
The Missouri Tigers lost a lot of talent from last year’s squad, including longtime starting quarterback Drew Lock, explosive receiver Emanuel Hall, and early NFL draft entrant running back Damarea Crockett. Mizzou also lost its bowl eligibility due to NCAA sanctions handed down over the winter, though it has appealed the decision. Nevertheless, with Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant set to replace Lock at quarterback, the Tigers should be a dangerous non-conference opponent.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. NC State (Morgantown, W. Va.)
An impending hurricane canceled the first leg of what was originally expected to be a home-and-home with NC State, but the Wolfpack will make the trip to Morgantown in 2019. Dave Doeren’s squad is talented and won nine games a year ago, but must replace its top passer, rusher, and its top two receivers, as well as its leading tackler and sack leader from last season.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Kansas (Lawrence, Kan.)
The Kansas secondary may have given Will Grier fits last season, but the Mountaineers still drew the best possible opponent for a Big 12 opener — especially in the week to follow a rare back-to-back versus Power 5 teams. Kansas has high hopes Les Miles can pump some life into the Big 12 cellar-dwellers, though the Jayhawks lost 26 seniors from what was already the least talented roster in the conference.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Texas (Morgantown, W. Va.)
Texas enters 2019 with lofty expectations and could be in the top 10 by the time this game rolls around — or even higher if the Longhorns beat LSU in Week 2. The first of two bye weeks comes at a great time for West Virginia, which will have an extra week to prepare for the Big 12 title contenders. Of course, the Longhorns also have Week 5 off, so the advantage is somewhat limited. The Horns will also have revenge on their minds after last year’s 42-41 West Virginia win in Austin.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. Iowa State (Morgantown, W. Va.)
West Virginia lost 30-14 in Ames last season, and it’s easy to see Iowa State as the favorite to beat the Mountaineers this year. Despite losses at running back, receiver and in the secondary, the Cyclones are certified up-and-comers in the Big 12. And with Brock Purdy at quarterback and Matt Campbell on the sidelines, fans are understandably optimistic about the Iowa State in 2019 and beyond. The Mountaineers also have the misfortune of playing the Cyclones in the sandwich week between heavyweights Texas and Oklahoma. At least the game is in Morgantown.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Oklahoma (Norman, Okla.)
A trip to Norman highlights what is arguably the toughest three-week stretch any Big 12 team will face in 2019. Oklahoma should be favored to win a fifth straight conference title, and the Sooners could get a crack at the College Football Playoff for the fourth time in five years if Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts returns to the form that made him SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016. More importantly, if new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch improves what has largely been a dreadful unit (one that surrendered 56 points to West Virginia last season), OU could win it all. Austin Kendall’s transfer from Oklahoma adds an intriguing storyline (assuming he wins the QB competition with Jack Allison and Trey Lowe), as well as some added motivation should he get the start for this game.
Week 10 — Oct. 31 at Baylor (Waco, Tex.)
It’s a good year for two byes, and the Mountaineers are fortunate to have an extra weekend to recover following a three-game gauntlet against Big 12 title contenders. However, despite a dominant 58-14 West Virginia victory in Morgantown, Baylor showed marked improvement throughout the 2018 season. The Bears should play better defense in 2019 given the experience returning, and Charlie Brewer is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the conference. A win in Waco won’t come easy, especially on a Thursday night.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 vs. Texas Tech (Morgantown, W. Va.)
By Week 11, most of the mystery surrounding head coaching changes should have vanished, but right now, it’s difficult to envision exactly what a West Virginia-Texas Tech matchup will look like in early November. The Red Raiders return multiple QBs with starting experience, any of whom could excel in Matt Wells’ high-scoring offense. Of course, the defense has long been an issue for the Red Raiders, and the 2019 unit will feature many new faces.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 at Kansas State (Manhattan, Kan.)
Similarly, a trip to Kansas State will have a much different feel in 2019 now that Bill Snyder has retired. Former North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman has an excellent track record, and he also has experience stepping into the big shoes of a local legend. Quarterback Skylar Thompson — the leading returning passer and rusher for the Wildcats — has struggled often during his first two seasons but has the potential to blossom as a junior.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Oklahoma State (Morgantown, W. Va.)
West Virginia standouts such as Kennedy McKoy, Marcus Simms and JoVanni Stewart are set to be celebrated during the Senior Day festivities ahead of the clash with Oklahoma State on Nov. 23. It would be a surprise to many if either team were to make a run at Big 12 crown in 2019, though if either the Cowboys or Mountaineers overachieve, a spot in the conference championship game could hang in the balance. More likely, bowl eligibility could be on the line. Either way, West Virginia’s seniors will be out for revenge for last year’s 45-41 disappointing loss in Stillwater.
Week 14 — Nov. 29 at TCU (Fort Worth, Tex.)
Both West Virginia and TCU will have an abbreviated practice schedule ahead of the regular-season finale. The Mountaineers have the additional disadvantage of traveling to play the Horned Frogs on the road on the Friday following Thanksgiving, but TCU’s back-to-back road games against Texas Tech Oklahoma should narrow the edge. West Virginia dominated the Frogs 47-10 last season, but the Mountaineers haven’t won in Fort Worth since 2013.