It’s that time of year when the pre-season magazines hit the newsstands with their predictions for the upcoming college football season.
I received my copy of Athlon Sports in the mail on Thursday, which is one of the more popular publications. West Virginia fans may not be very happy with the magazine’s forecast for the Mountaineers. They have WVU coming in at number nine (9) out of the 10 Big 12 schools.
They project WVU to go 3-9 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12. If that comes true, it will not sit well with Mountaineer fans.
The fans will be calling for Holgorsen’s head.
Only Kansas falls in behind WVU in the pecking order, according to Athlon.
Realistically, you can understand this prediction.
One article said “the heat has been on WVU coach Dana Holgorsen for a couple of seasons.”
Another article in the magazine has a headline that reads “On Shaky Ground.”
It reads that “West Virginia looks to find its footing after a rocky start in the Big 12.”
WVU finished a poor 4-8 last season. The Mountaineers have lost 14 of their last 20 games since that great 5-0 start in 2012 with Geno Smith at quarterback and Tavon Austin as the primary receiver.
Statistically, in 2013, WVU was 103rd nationally in red-zone offense, 113th in third down conversions and 101st in yards allowed per game.
Holgorsen and his staff have a lot of things to correct in 2014.
One thing that might help is they return several starters on both sides of the football and they now have some experience heading into conference play.
Clint Trickett will have to stay injury free. Hopefully being named the starter in June will help his confidence, even though he is coming off shoulder surgery.
Holgorsen and his offensive coaches need some stability at the signal caller position. Last year it was a revolving door, with three different starters. Part of that was because of performance, and partly because of injury.
True freshman William Crest comes in as a highly touted prospect, but he may not be ready. Paul Millard, who started the first couple of games last fall, is back as a reserve, along with JUCO transfer Skyler Howard. The job is Trickett’s to lose.
The Mounties were dealt a blow this week with the arrest and extradition of running back Wendell Smallwood, who was projected to be one of the top backs in the rotation. He will likely be lost – at least for this season. Depending on what happens with the judicial process, he may never wear gold and blue again.
Pitt transfer Rushel Shell, who sat out last season, has a lot of potential. He was highly recruited out of high school, including WVU. He may come up big out of the backfield.
Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison and Dreamius Smith will provide depth.
A pair of state natives, junior Cody Clay and true freshman Elijah Wellman will man the fullback-H-back slot.
At wide receiver, Mario Alford, J. J. Myers, Dakiel Shorts and Kevin White return with some experience. This crew could really come up big if they live up to expectations.
Several players return on the offensive line including Quinton Spain, Tyler Orlosky, Mark Glowinski, Adam Pankey, Marquis Lucas, Stone Underwood and others will bid for starting spots.
Key returners on defense include linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski, Brandon Golson and Isaiah Bruce, defensive backs Daryl Worley, Karl Joseph and Ishmael Banks. Kyle Rose is the lone defensive lineman that started last year, but there are several prospects that will hopefully step up on the D-line.
Joseph , a safety, was the lone Mountaineer on the pre-season All-Big 12 team.
Josh Lambert, a sophomore, returns as the place kicker, while junior Nick O’Toole, is back as the punter. O’Toole is on the All-Big 12 second team, along with Kwiatkoski.
WVU will have a new defensive coordinator, Boone County native Tony Gibson, who was at the Morgantown school with Rich Rodriguez, takes over for Keith Patterson.
Last season was the first time WVU did not go to a bowl game since 2001. The big wins over Clemson (70-33) in the Orange Bowl in Holgorsen’s first season and the Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma (48-28) under the late Bill Stewart in 2007 are history.
Athlon quoted Holgorsen as saying, “We have to win as a team. We’ve got to win with good depth. I think we’re at that point right now,” he said.
WVU needs to win some swing games with the likes of Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU.
The Mountaineers start the season with one of the toughest non-conference games in the history of the school – Alabama. They also have Maryland on the road. The Terps embarrassed WVU in Morgantown last year with a 37-0 shutout. Towson, the second game of the season, is the only team that might be considered an easy game for the Mountaineers.
With a prediction of 9th in the Big 12, a 3-9 mark and last year’s finish at 4-8 – WVU has a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s hope this is one prediction that doesn’t come true.
…The magazine picked Oklahoma to win the Big 12 conference, with Baylor finishing second and Texas third.
… Athlon picks Florida State to win the national championship, with the Crimson Tide second, Ohio State third and the Sooners of Oklahoma fourth.
…The publication says that Marshall will win the Conference USA and could go undefeated. They also have the Thundering Herd listed as number 40 in their overall rankings, while WVU is number 67. This is out of 128 Division One schools.
… They also predict that Marshall will play in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against Georgia.
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)