This season garnered the best record West Virginia has had since joining the Big 12 in 2012. At 10-2 the Mountaineers finished third in the Big 12 and No. 16 in the final regular season College Football Playoff rankings. A victory over Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28 would give WVU its first 11-win season since 2007.
While the Mountaineers’ offense had multiple playmakers such as Skyler Howard, Shelton Gibson and Justin Crawford it was the defense that stole the show this season. Tony Gibson’s unit has allowed 23.4 points per game thus far while shutting down some of the most potent passing attacks in the nation.
Offensive MVP: Skyler Howard, QB
Howard will leave Morgantown third all-time in Mountaineer history in passing yards. His improvements over last season were obvious, as he led the WVU to its first 10-win season since 2011. Howard completed 60.8 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also will finish the season ranked second in program with 60 touchdown passes.
Defensive MVP: Rasul Douglas, DB
After playing sparingly in 2015, Douglas quickly made a name for himself this season. The junior college transfer is fourth on the team in tackles and is tied for the FBS lead with eight interceptions. Douglas’ performance earned him first-team All-Big 12 honors.
Best Freshman: Kennedy McKoy, RB
The true freshman came out of nowhere when injuries started to mount for WVU. McKoy currently has 466 rushing yards on 72 attempts along with 59 receiving yards. Against Texas Tech, McKoy ran for 99 yards on just four carries (24.8 ypc).
Best Newcomer: Justin Crawford, RB
The former junior college offensive player of the year started the season behind Rushel Shell on the depth chart. However it wasn’t long before Crawford became a regular in the Mountaineers’ backfield, posting 1,168 rushing yards averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Most of those yards have come in the last three games in which he has totaled 665 on 65 carries. Currently fourth in the Big 12 in rushing, Crawford was named the conference’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
Best Play of the Season: Daikiel Shorts’ TD Catch on Fourth Down vs. Baylor
Down 14-3 late in the first half, the Mountaineers went for it on 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Shorts was able to secure the ball and toe tap in the back of the end zone to give West Virginia its first touchdown of the game and some momentum heading into halftime.
Best Performance: Justin Crawford vs. Oklahoma
In a game where not much went right for the Mountaineers, Crawford put up a performance that is only bested by Tavon Austin’s effort against the Sooners in 2012. Crawford ended the night with 331rushing yards on just 24 carries (13.8 ypc).
Best Game: West Virginia 24, Texas 20
Playing in Austin where the Mountaineers had lost by 17 points two years earlier, WVU had to scratch for every yard offensively. The Longhorns outperformed the Mountaineers in every offensive aspect from a statistical standpoint, but the WVU defense held strong in the final minutes to secure the 24-20 victory. It was the Mountaineers’ second straight over Texas.
Defining Moment: Maurice Fleming’s Late Interception vs. BYU
With the Mountaineers clinging to a three-point lead late in the game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., BYU was moving the ball down the field. The Cougars were close to being in field goal range when Fleming intercepted Taysom Hill near the goal line with 1:09 to seal the 35-32 victory.
Biggest Surprise: Justin Arndt, LB
Arndt is one of those “feel good” stories you love to read about. Originally a walk-on, he earned a scholarship his senior season. From there the undersized linebacker became a team captain and is leading the team in tackles with 80 entering the bowl game.
Biggest Disappointment: Rushel Shell, RB
There were high hopes for Shell entering his senior season after he considered leaving early for the NFL. Shell was expected to replace departed Big 12 rushing champion Wendell Smallwood, but nagging injuries have limited Shell to just nine games. He is currently second on the team in both rushing yards (514) and touchdowns (five).
Senior That Will be Missed the Most Next Season: Tyler Orlosky, OL
Orlosky was the anchor of a Mountaineers’ offensive line that was considered by many to be the best in the Big 12 and one of the top groups in the nation. Orlosky was named first-team All-Big 12 by the coaches.
Player to Watch in 2017: Will Grier, QB
There has been a buzz around Grier since transferring from Florida in the offseason. He will replace Skyler Howard, a two-year starter. In 2015, Grier went 6-0 as the starter for the Gators before he was suspended one year for violation of NCAA rules. Grier’s suspension was due to him testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Defensive Line
The Mountaineers will have to replace their entire defensive line next season. Nose tackle Darrien Howard and defensive ends Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown all graduate. While their replacements are already on the team they will be inexperienced. Defense has been one of the strengths of this WVU team, as it ranks among the top three in the Big 12 in total, scoring and rushing defense.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.