It’s hard to find any WVU football fan who is optimistic following the Heart of Dallas Bowl. West Virginia let itself go in that one.
But it’s also not hard to see why the WVU football team fell to Utah in disastrous fashion. The Mountaineers played without their starting quarterback for one. Plus, three other offensive starters were missing.
Put some of those pieces together and it’s likely that the WVU football beats Utah. Will Grier automatically makes the Mountaineers a contender in any game they play. That will be the case next season which is why ESPN thinks the WVU football team has a chance to win the Big 12 and play in the College Football Playoff.
In an article by Adam Rittenberg, West Virginia is named as a team to “crash the playoff party.” Also included are Ohio State, Washington, Miami, USC, Penn State, Auburn, Wisconsin, Stanford, Michigan and Boise State. The four teams in this year’s playoff are Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia, so they were not included on the list.
Aside from Oklahoma, it may be obvious that West Virginia is the other best contender to play for the Big 12 title. Whichever team wins the Big 12, and has less than two regular season losses, should be considered, if not locked, for the College Football Playoff. West Virginia will definitely be better next season, but the schedule is what could hold it back from the playoff.
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In the out of conference slate, the Mountaineers will take on Tennessee and North Carolina State. Neither team has exactly set the world on fire in recent years, but neither has Utah. The WVU football team has yet to prove it can knock off another talented Power 5 team that’s not in the Big 12. Plus, the Big 12 has proven to be tricky for the Mountaineers since joining the conference in 2012. Heck, the WVU football team has never beaten the Sooners since being in the same league. Getting past these pesky teams will be the first key to making the playoff.
But Rittenberg does recognize the talent West Virginia returns, most namely Grier at quarterback. But Gary Jennings and David Sills are both back at wideout and T.J. Simmons will transfer in from Alabama. Rittenberg says this may be the “most explosive offense” head coach Dana Holgorsen has had in the past seven seasons.
But what about that defense? It seems that each year there is something to pick about this unit for the Mountaineers. Well, Rittenberg cites linebacker David Long as the most important piece on defense and calls Kenny Robinson a playmaking safety. There are still nine other players who must step up to get the WVU football team where it needs to be.
It still comes back to the schedule, though, and Rittenberg admits it will be tricky. But it is also what could make the Mountaineers more recognizable nationwide.
"If there ever was a year for West Virginia to break through nationally, 2018 seems to be it, as the Mountaineers have Tennessee and NC State in non-league play and host both TCU and Oklahoma."
A lot has to go right for the Mountaineers next season. A lot could be riding on Holgorsen. This next season is kind of his put up or shut up campaign. He needs to get a big win and stay true to his promise that he would fix the Mountaineers shortcomings.
Judging by the performance against Utah, it’s already past time to start correcting these mistakes. There is a lot of work ahead to fulfill ESPN’s prophesy.