The 2021 season produced two new title contenders in the Big 12 Conference as Baylor and Oklahoma State faced off in the Big 12 Championship Game. The conference announced plans to replace Texas and Oklahoma in 2025 by adding Houston, UCF, Cincinnati and BYU in 2023. The 2022 season will be the last season of the Big 12 Conference as it’s been known for the last decade.
There will inevitably be more seismic shifts this season after UCLA and USC announced intentions to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference. Whether the Big 12 adds more schools or has more members poached by other conferences remains to be seen, but this will be the last year with just 10 member institutions in the conference. Next up in the Big 12 preseason power rankings is the West Virginia Mountaineers. You can read previous installments of this series below.
No. 8 West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia has been trending in the wrong direction over the last several seasons, but new faces have arrived in Morgantown to help the Mountaineers take country roads back in the right direction.
The offense has been a particular area of concern as there has been a departure from the high scoring, lethal offenses of West Virginia’s past under coach Neal Brown. West Virginia scored just 25.2 points-per-game last season, good for 88th in the country. The season before, another Jarret Doege led offense managed 26.5 points-per-game, ranking 83rd in the nation. In Brown’s first year as head coach in 2019, Austin Kendall led the Mountaineers to a 5-7 record by scoring 20.6 points-per-game, which ranked 116th in the nation.
For comparison, Dana Holgerson and NFL quarterback Will Grier led West Virginia to an 8-4 record by scoring 40.2 points-per-game, 10th in the nation, in 2018. Brown landed Georgia transfer quarterback J.T. Daniels and USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell in the offseason to help address the issue.
How much of a difference will Daniels’ playmaking ability and Harrell’s play-calling make in a deep Big 12? If the Mountaineers don’t show signs of progress, Brown’s seat is only going to get hotter.
The addition of J.T. Daniels in the offseason was an immediate upgrade for a team that hasn’t had good quarterback play since Will Grier left for the NFL after the 2018 season. Daniels reunites with Harrell after the two spent time together briefly at USC. That familiarity will be key early in the season.
The Mountaineers also have four-star recruit Nicco Marchiol, an early enrollee, in the fold. Marchiol has potential, but likely won’t get the opportunity to showcase it this season. Garrett Greene should be the backup quarterback after getting some playing time for WVU last season. If Daniels gets hurt and needs to miss several weeks, then Marchiol might get a chance to prove himself. Otherwise, I would expect to see nothing more than mop-up duty for Marchiol in an effort to preserve his eligibility.
The running back group has more depth after using one primary back in Leddie Brown the last few years. Tony Mathis is the top returner for West Virginia after a strong performance in the bowl game against Minnesota. Clemson transfer Lyn-J Dixon is also in the fold and should get plenty of opportunities to prove himself now that he isn’t buried on the Clemson depth chart.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Kaden Prather will provide Daniels with big, athletic targets on the outside to pair with slot receiver Sam James. The Mountaineers didn’t land an impact transfer at receiver to provide more depth, but West Virginia did add Jeremiah Aaron out of Navarro College. Ford-Wheaton, Prather and James provide Daniels with a good trio of pass catchers, but it would help the offense if the Mountaineers develop some depth along the way as well.
West Virginia’s offensive line was an area of issue in 2021. The offensive line allowed 38 sacks and running backs made it just 2.1 yards before being met by contact. That group included Zach Frazier, James Gmiter, Doug Nester, Wyatt Milum and Brandon Yates. All five return in 2022. Continuity is generally a positive, especially along the offensive line. This group will have to improve significantly if the Mountaineers offense is to improve on last seasons numbers.
Dante Stills will be the star of this defense and the leader of the defensive line. Stills is just five tackles-for-loss away from the program record in Morgantown and is back for his fifth and final season. Jordan Jefferson and Georgia Tech transfer Michael Lockhart will have to replace the production of Akheem Meisdor, who transferred to Miami. Taijh Alston returns for his sixth season at defensive end, making the defensive line one of the more experienced groups on the team.
Lance Dixon figures to be the primary playmaker at linebacker with Exree Loe providing experience next to Dixon. West Virginia landed Lee Kpogba in the transfer portal, but still needs to find a playmaker to fill its “bandit” position. Tirek Austin-Cave transferred in from Miami and should be a playmaker for this linebacking corps.
West Virginia will have a new look in the secondary this season with just one returning starter. The Mountaineers hammered the transfer portal to add talent around Charles Woods in the back end. WVU added James Madison transfer Wesley McCormick and Colorado State transfer Rashad Ajayi at cornerback. The highest rated signee in the freshman class was a cornerback in four-star Jacolby Spells.
As college football has moved away from tradition and embraced the value of a dollar, West Virginia has embraced tradition. Playing two power five opponents in non-conference isn’t exactly the trendy thing to do, but the Mountaineers have brought back two old Big East rivalries with Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. West Virginia will need to win at least one of those two games in order to contend for a bowl game appearance.
Luckily for West Virginia, Pittsburgh lost a ton of talent, including quarterback Kenny Pickett and receiver Jordan Addison. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, will be breaking in a new coach in Brent Pry and hasn’t played up to Hokie standards in several years. Those are both winnable games for WVU. So too are conferences games against Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Tech, TCU and maybe Kansas State. Although the Wildcats are getting plenty of love in the preseason, I think WVU could compete with them in Morgantown.
West Virginia Schedule 2022
|September 1||@ Pittsburgh||W|
|September 22||@ Virginia Tech||W|
|October 1||@ Texas||L|
|October 22||@ Texas Tech||L|
|November 5||@ Iowa State||L|
|November 19||Kansas State||L|
|November 26||@ Oklahoma State||L|
|Overall Record||5-7 (2-7)|
West Virginia could absolutely beat Texas Tech in Lubbock. Maybe the Mountaineers could swing a win against Kansas State in Morgantown. On the flip side, TCU, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh aren’t guaranteed wins. Odds are, I am way off on West Virginia. Predicting the Big 12 hasn’t been this hard in a long time and I am not necessarily pretending to know what’s going to happen. Ultimately, it all comes down to how much of a difference Daniels and Harrell make and how much the offensive line improves.
Disclaimer: I will be posting my picks weekly on Tallysight once again this year. This is just my best guess as of July and these picks are subject to change once I see what actually ends up playing out on the field.