WVU head coach Neal Brown is entering his fourth season at the helm for the Mountaineers, but the results have been about as average as they can get since he took over in 2019.
With a mark of 17–18 the last three seasons, pressure is beginning to mount for Brown, but this season's edition could be the fresh start the Mountaineers need. With three full recruiting classes under Brown's belt, this is his team now, and new faces will be evident in all three phases, whether it's because of eligibility expiration or losses in the transfer portal.
With the fan base already sitting on pins and needles, and traditional rivals Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech awaiting in non-conference play, this is a critical season for Brown's tenure. Inexperience that some could say provides youthful energy, mixed with veterans in the trenches who have been through the grind, will make for another "wait and see" season.
Previewing West Virginia's Offense for 2022
Under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, the offense will have a different look — especially the quarterbacks. Maligned QB Jarret Doege decided to use his final year at WKU, so it will be a four-horse race for the starting spot.
JT Daniels transfers in from Georgia, having thrown for nearly 5,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in his college career. Sophomore Garrett Greene played significant snaps last season as a change-of-pace to Doege, mainly using his legs to make plays. However, he showed little in the passing game when he got his opportunities. Will "Goose" Crowder, who redshirted last season in his first year on campus, is similar to Daniels in that he's more of a pocket passer, and the coaches mentioned his continuous improvement throughout last season and the spring. True freshman Nicco Marchiol is a lefty who showed the ability to be a dual-threat that helped him earn his lofty recruit ranking.
A replacement for Leddie Brown at running back is needed, though it appears junior Tony Mathis Jr. will be given the reins after a strong ending to last season. Clemson transfer Lyn-J Dixon provides a home-run threat that the Mountaineers haven't had in a long time, and sophomore Justin Johnson Jr. and redshirt freshman Jaylen Anderson will provide depth for what Coach Brown considers his most talented backfield since he's been in Morgantown.
At wide receiver, Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James could be two of the best returnees in the Big 12, and Kaden Prather has superstar potential. Depth is a concern, but Reese Smith and Jarel Williams, as well as juco newcomers Jeremiah Aaron and Cortez Braham, will be in the mix. Mike O'Laughlin is a threat to catch the ball at tight end, and Colorado State transfer Brian Polendey will be an extension of the offensive line.
The line is expected to be a strength with all five starters returning, anchored by Wyatt Milum at left tackle.
Previewing West Virginia's Defense for 2022
Similarly to the offense, the defensive line returns a boatload of experience, led by Dante Stills, who decided to use his extra year of eligibility to return. Taijh Alston is another veteran on the edge. There are talented players waiting in the wings as well to provide depth.
At linebacker, Syracuse transfer Lee Kpogba will man the Mike, while Lance Dixon and Exree Loe return at the Will spot. The coaches hope that the Bandit position will evolve with Jared Bartlett and Lanell Carr playing as both an extra rusher and pass defender.
The secondary was devastated with transfers and eligibility exhaustion, so there will be new faces at every position but one. Corner Charles Woods started toward the end of last season and played well down the stretch, and expect Andrew Wilson-Lamp, Naim Muhammad, Mumu Bin-Wahad and Murray State transfer Marcis Floyd to get a chance opposite Woods. Brown says he will also look at the portal to add depth.
North Dakota State transfer Jasir Cox and redshirt freshman Davis Mallinger are the favorites at the Spear safety, while sophomores Aubrey Burks, Hershey McLaurin and Saint McLeod will fill the other spots.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2022
Previewing West Virginia's Specialists for 2022
Casey Legg is back at kicker after making 19-of-23 field goals last season, and Florida State transfer Parker Grothaus will take over kickoff duties. Australian freshman Oliver Straw will likely handle the punting duties.
At kick returner, Aaron was an All-America returner in junior college, but James and Anderson could handle the duties, and the same can be said for punt returns.
It will be a brand-new look offensively this season, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. With Harrell able to put his stamp on things, there could be a chance for some excitement, and that will require young players to grow into their roles quickly.
Although the defense has been hit hard with attrition, there are still high-caliber pieces, especially up front. The Mountaineers need to establish a pass rush, something they struggled with last season, with few proven commodities in the defensive backfield.
A reboot, so to speak, can finally make this Brown's team and program, but things could also turn south in a hurry.