Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.
Today’s team: No. 19 West Virginia (Related coverage: Confidence grows on West Virginia’s rebuilt offensive line)
Best-case scenario: The Mountaineers go 10-2 and play in a New Years Day bowl. There’s a lot of winnable games on the schedule, with home games against Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech. When the Cowboys come to rowdy Milan Puskar Stadium on Oct. 28, it’s realistic to think WVU could only have one loss. There’s concern with the Mountaineers’ defense, but who plays defense in the Big 12 anyway?
Worst-case scenario: Former Florida starting quarterback Will Grier turns out to be a bust and WVU struggles to find an identity. Even if the Mountaineers have to rely on the unproven Chris Chugunov behind center, bowl hopes are almost a certainty. There’s at least seven winnable games on this schedule.
The key game: Oct. 7, at TCU. The Mountaineers beat TCU last year in Morgantown, but if they can get out of Fort Worth with a “W,” WVU should get off to a 4-0 start in the Big 12 before an Oct. 28 home showdown with Oklahoma State.
INSIDE THE MOUNTAINEERS
Coach: Dana Holgorsen (seventh year, 46-31)
2016: 10-3, 7-2 in the Big 12 (lost to Miami 31-14 in the Russell Athletic Bowl)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 3 defense
Goodbye: QB Skylar Howard, third all-time in WVU passing yards (7,302) behind Geno Smith and Marc Bulger; CB Rasul Douglas (3rd round, Eagles); WR Shelton Gibson (5th, Eagles)
Spring cleaning: West Virginia had two players drafted and lost nine starters. Howard’s heir apparent, Grier, sat out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules but impressed Holgorsen in WVU’s spring game. Holgorsen told reporters Grier was “as good as advertised” in April. Grier completed 12 of 18 attempts for 202 yards. … It was the first glance at former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s play-calling. This is Spavital’s second stint at West Virginia; he was the quarterbacks coach from 2011-12. … The Mountaineers signed the 59th-rated recruiting class in the country — 23 3-star prospects; their top recruit was homegrown in 6-1, 174-pound athlete Derrick Pitts of South Charleston. Pitts was the No. 2-rated recruit in the state. Another signee was junior college transfer Kelby Wickline, a center and the son of offensive line coach (and former Texas offensive coordinator/offensive line coach) Joe Wickline.
Passing: Chris Chugunov, 2-5-15, 0/1 (2nd)
Rushing: Justin Crawford, 163-1,203-4 (1st)
Receiving: Ka’Raun White, 48-583-5 (2nd)
Tackles: LB Al-Rasheed Benton, 80 (2nd)
Sacks: S Kyzir White, 3 (T-2nd)
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (5)
Offense: RB Justin Crawford (offensive newcomer of the year), OL Kyle Bosch (hon. men.)
Defense: LB David Long (defensive freshman of the year), S Kyzir White (defensive newcomer of the year), LB Al-Rasheed Benton (hon. men.)
WEST VIRGINIA: FYI
Pipeline to Morgantown: The Whites of Macungie, Pa.. are to WVU what the Collins family was to Penn State in the 1980s and 90s. Kevin White Jr., the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, began the run. Kevin Jr.’s little brothers, wide receiver Ka’Raun (48 receptions, 593 yds., 5 TDs) and safety Kyzir carry on the White legacy in Morgantown. Ka’Raun should be a big contributor in Spavital’s offense. The Mountaineers are deep in the skill positions.
Getting defensive: In each of the past two seasons, West Virginia has ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring and yards allowed per game and no lower than fourth in yards allowed per play. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson seems to have found a good scheme to complement the offense, but the Mountaineers had several offseason loses on defense, especially in the secondary which lost All-American cornerback Rasul Douglass.
Road warriors: WVU does have a tough road ahead, especially in November when the Mountaineers travel to Kansas State and Oklahoma. Throw in road games at Baylor and TCU and you arguably have the toughest road schedule in the Big 12. It probably should also be noted that West Virginia lost 31-19 to Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. in 2013, which was the Mountaineers’ second season in the Big 12.
West Virginia's schedule
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 3||Virginia Tech (Maryland)|
|Sept. 9||East Carolina|
|Sept. 16||Delaware State|
|Sept. 23||at Kansas*||W, 48-21|
|Oct. 7||at TCU*||W, 34-10|
|Oct. 14||Texas Tech*||W, 48-17|
|Oct. 21||at Baylor*||W, 24-21|
|Oct. 28||Oklahoma State*||L, 37-20|
|Nov. 4||Iowa State*||W, 49-19|
|Nov. 11||at Kansas State*||W, 17-16|
|Nov. 18||Texas*||W, 24-20|
|Nov. 25||at Oklahoma*||L, 56-28|
|* Big 12 game|
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKING||BOWL GAME|
|TOTAL||36-28 (22-23)||1-3 in bowls|
|2012||7-6 (5-4)||11th/NR||L Pinstripe|
|2013||4-8 (2-7)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2014||7-6 (5-4)||NR/NR||L Liberty|
|2015||8-5 (4-5)||NR/NR||W Cactus|
|2016||10-3 (7-2)||NR/18th||L Russell Athletic|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS
Scoring: 50th (31.2 ppg)
Points allowed: 35th (24.0 ppg)
Passing: 42nd (257.2 ypg)
Rushing: 25th (228.4 ypg)
Total off.: 17th (485.5 ypg)
Total def.: 74th (425.9 ypg)
OUR TOP 25 SO FAR
No. 25: Boise State
No. 24: Oregon
No. 23: Tennessee
No. 22: Texas
No. 21: Kansas State
No. 20: Miami
No. 19: West Virginia
No. 18: Coming Wednesday. Want a hint? This school’s head coach has served on the staffs of Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz (twice) and Urban Meyer.
3: Big 12 (19-West Virginia, 21-Kansas State, 22-Texas)
1: ACC (20-Miami); Mountain West (25-Boise State); Pac-12 (24-Oregon); SEC (23-Tennessee)
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