Anyone waiting for the West Virginia Mountaineers to rejoin the ranks of college football powerhouses shouldn’t hold their breath. Their ascent through the national discourse is going to take at least a little while longer.
This isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Especially this past year.
West Virginia is undergoing something of a rebuild. They knew head coach Neal Brown’s first season wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. And it wasn’t. The defense overachieved slightly, ranking in the top 75 of points allowed per game, but they placed 116th in offensive output and finished the year 5-7. That they even hit the five-win mark was something of a pleasant surprise.
This quasi-reset comes on the heels of five straight lower-tier Bowl Game appearances. Some schools are okay remaining on the treadmill. There is value in winning those secondary championships.
Except, well, West Virginia wasn’t picking up victories in those Bowl Games. They were 1-4 over their past five appearances and are just 2-7 across their last nine championship-contest cameos.
That’s…not great. It is even harder to reconcile when you consider that the Mountaineers used to contend for the top national Bowl Games—such as the Orange Bowl. Their heyday predates the college football playoffs, but for a school with their track record, West Virginia doesn’t want to settle for the success of yesteryear. They would’ve belonged in the playoff discussion if this were 2011. Their goal should be to get back to that level.
Maybe they will at some point. That point just won’t be next season.
The Big East is short on powerhouses to begin with, and experts don’t expect West Virginia to even contend for a tippy-top spot within this group. Oklahoma, Iowa and Texas are all projected to be decidedly better. Kansas State and Baylor are wild cards given some of their recent roster turnover, but they, too, have a strong chance at rattling off more conference victories than West Virginia
The Mountaineers’ capacity to outperform this projection lies almost entirely with the quarterback position. They don’t have a clear-cut starter and are hoping for a training camp competition between Jarrett Doege, a junior, and Austin Kendall, a senior.
Kendall was the starter last year after coming over from Big East rival Oklahoma, but he’s guaranteed nothing after seeing his completion percentage drop by almost 10 points. Regardless of whether he or Doege is the starter, West Virginia has no idea if they employ a QB capable of leading an above-average offense.
Figuring that out is, in turn, the key to their entire season.