Will Grier (7) of the West Virginia Mountaineers takes the field against the Iowa State Cyclones at Mountaineer Field on November 04, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Coming back from a late-season injury, Grier is the key to a potentially explosive Mountaineers passing game. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: For No. 19 West Virginia, when there’s a Will, there’s a way

When quarterback Will Grier is healthy, the Mountaineers' passing game is one of the best in the country. Key words: "When Will Grier is healthy."

Posted July 10th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

Today’s team: No. 19 West Virginia

The Mountaineers’ best-case scenario: The Mountaineers ride their potent passing offense and win the Big 12.

Their worst-case scenario: WVU fails to find a running game and doesn’t fix its problem stopping the rush or rushing the quarterback.

RELATED COVERAGE: Top receiver Gary Jennings a ‘different animal’ than last season

RELATED COVERAGE: The state of Georgia has been good to WVU recruiting

Inside the Mountaineers

Coach: Dana Holgorsen (eighth year, 53-37)

2017: 7-6, 5-4 in the Big 12 (lost to Utah 30-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense

Goodbye: RB Justin Crawford; S Kyzir White (4th, Chargers), WR KaRaun White, OL Kyle Bosch

Spring cleaning: WVU received good early news when both quarterback Will Grier and receiver David Sills opted to return for their senior seasons. Grier was coming off finger surgery, which probably played into his plans to stay in Morgantown. … Holgorsen hired Marquel Blackwell, a one-time star quarterback for South Florida, to coach the running backs. Blackwell had coached for a year at Toledo. While there, two of his backs led the MAC in rushing, including Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing last fall. Blackwell replaced Tony Dews, who had served two coaching stints with the Mountaineers and left to coach for the Tennessee Titans. … West Virginia was forced to cancel its spring game because of bad weather.

Gary Jennings (12) of the West Virginia Mountaineers runs after the catch against Willie Harvey (2) of the Iowa State Cyclones at Mountaineer Field on November 4, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Will Grier, 250-388-3,490, 34/12 (1st)

RUSHING: Kennedy McCoy, 125-596-7 (2nd); Martell Pettaway, 43-149-2 (3rd)

RECEIVING: Gary Jennings Jr., 97-1,096-1 (1st); David Sills V, 60-980-18 (3rd)

TACKLES: LB David Long Jr., 75 (3rd); S Dravon Askew-Henry, 75 (4th)

SACKS: DL Ezekiel Rose, 5 (1st); LB David Long Jr., 3.5 (2nd)

INTERCEPTIONS: S Kenny Robinson, 3 (T-1st)

Returning All-Big 12 players (2)

Offense: QB Will Grier (off. player of the year); WR David Sills V (1st team)

Defense: None

FYI

No passing fancy: At least on paper, West Virginia has the best passing attack amongst Power 5 schools. Grier, who threw for nearly 3,500 yards last season in 11 games, is back. He’s a likely darkhorse candidate for the Heisman. Sills led the nation with 18 touchdown receptions. He also caught 60 passes for 980 yards. Gary Jennings also returns. His 97 catches last fall were the second highest among Power 5 receivers. Then there’s Marcus Simms, who is one of the fastest wideouts in the league. He averaged nearly 19 yards a catch last fall. Plus, after sitting out last fall, former Alabama receiver T.J. Simmons will push for a starting job.

2018 A.C. (After Crawford): WVU’s offense needs to have a running element to make it work. The Mountaineers lost Justin Crawford, who posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Kennedy McCoy is the next guy in line. And he’ll have the luxury of an established offensive line which returns four starters. Three of them graded out at more than 80 last year by Pro Football Focus. The tackle combo of Colton McKivitz and Yodny Cajuste could be the strongest in the Big 12 and will certainly help Grier put up big stats.

Welcome to Morgantown: Holgorsen continues to bolster his team via the transfer route. This time he’s using older players to bolster his defensive line. One guy to watch is former USC defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow, a one-time five-star recruit. Bigelow missed the 2014 and 2016 seasons because of severe knee injuries. He was a reserve last fall, then retired from the sport. However, he had a change of heart. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility and he’ll spend it in Morgantown. Former Clemson defensive lineman Jabril Robinson also will help. He signed with WVU in May. Former Penn State tackle Brenon Thrift came out of spring as a backup.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 22nd (34.5 ppg) — right above No. 23 Texas Tech, right behind No. 21 Wake Forest

Points allowed: 90th (31.5 ppg) — right above No. 91 Illinois, right behind No. 89 Vanderbilt

Passing: 13th (309.3 ypg) — right above No. 14 Missouri, right behind No. 12 East Carolina

Rushing: 83rd (150.3 ypg) — right above No. 84 Troy, right behind No. 82 Purdue

Total offense: 20th (459.6 ypg) — right above No. 21 Louisiana-Monroe, right behind No. 19 Penn State

Total defense: 106th (445.5 ypg) — right above No. 107 UTEP, right behind No. 105 Syracuse

A West Virginia fan screams at the officiating crew after a play during an NCAA college football game against Texas in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (2:30, CBS)Tennessee
Sept. 8 (5 p.m.)Youngstown State
Sept. 15 (2:30 p.m.)North Carolina State
Sept. 22Kansas State*W, 28-23
Sept. 29at Texas Tech*W, 46-35
Oct. 6Kansas*W, 56-34
Oct. 13at Iowa State*W, 20-16
Oct. 25 (6, FS1)Baylor*W, 38-36
Nov. 3at Texas*L, 28-14
Nov. 10TCU*L, 31-24
Nov. 17at Oklahoma State*L, 50-39
Nov. 23 (7, ESPN)Oklahoma*L, 59-31
* Big 12 game

The key game: Nov. 17, at Oklahoma State

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20134-8 (2-7)— / —No bowl
20147-6 (5-4)— / —Liberty, L
20158-5 (4-5)— / —Cactus, W
201610-3 (7-2)— / 18thRussell Athletic, L
20177-6 (5-4)22nd / —Heart of Dallas, L
Total36-28 (23-22 Big 12)1-3 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.

Our Top 25, by conferences

2 schools:

Big 12 — No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

Pac-12 — No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

1 school:

ACC — No. 21 Florida State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

SEC — No. 24 LSU

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 18 team

Want a hint?

This school’s head coach was once a Longhorns assistant.

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