Is WVU waiting to ambush its colleagues in the Big 12?
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Bring on the big egos. Paint Arlington, Texas red. Tantalize the media with beverage, food and off-season football at AT&T Stadium, the billion-dollar playhouse of Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys.
It was the Big 12 Conference football media days . . . with boasts, bravado, bragging and four first-year coaches — including WVU’s Neal Brown.
Brown and company could avoid the spotlight. There are few outside of downtown Levels and the suburbs of Jane Lew that expect the Mountaineers to shake the very foundation of college football and run away with the Big 12 championship.
Last season, the Mountaineers had all manner of experience with their offense and showed some quality on defense — enough to be considered a bona fide threat to at least reach the conference championship game. Last season is gone, the stat sheets lie crumpled in the corner and the experienced quarterback, wide receivers and offensive linemen scattered with the winds of change.
With Oklahoma attempting to win its fifth consecutive league title in 2019, Texas supposedly on the rise with second-year coach Tom Herman, Texas Christian sporting an experienced cast and Oklahoma State proudly wearing its orange duds to battle, people don’t really see WVU as a headline maker.
West Virginia’s first-year coach, Neal Brown, has stayed clear of outlandish predictions, kept to the dimly lit byways when the media wanted some unjustified juicy quotes and paid compliments to his fellow coaches in the conference.
He knows his quarterback situation is far from settled. His group of wide receivers has proven little or nothing. He knows his overall depth is tissue paper thin.
The schedule includes 11 teams from the so-called Power 5 conferences. Even James Madison has the might to challenge or beat the Mountaineers in the season opener.
Brown comes to West Virginia from Troy University in football-happy Alabama. Troy beat Nebraska in front of 89,000 fans in Lincoln in 2018. Brown’s final edition in eastern Alabama went 10-3 overall and defeated Buffalo in a bowl game.
West Virginians will want to know who the starting quarterback will be. Transfer Jack Allison or transfer Austin Kendall will be replacing transfer Will Grier. Allison threw about 35 passes in the bowl game loss that finished off coach Dana Holgorsen’s tenure in Morgantown.
Holgorsen is now coaching the Cougars of Houston, away from the Big 12 but not the recruiting wrangling that never goes on cruise control in the state of Texas.
Quarterback Kendall is a transfer from the University of Oklahoma, where he played behind consecutive Heisman Trophy winners the last two seasons.
Oklahoma will hog the limelight again. Texas has the media adoring every move it makes, including whatever its longhorn mascot, Bevo, does on the sidelines.
West Virginia is away from Dallas, Forth Worth, Oklahoma City and the entire state of Texas. Nobody ever credited Morgantown with being the mover and shaker of policy makers.
More important then the immediacy of the 2019 season is the recruiting acumen of Coach Brown. At Troy, his last team in 2018 had 57 players from the state of Alabama, 19 from Georgia, 16 from Florida and 11 from states besides those three hotbeds of football.
In his own state, he recruited against Alabama, Auburn and Jacksonville State, as well as South Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, North Alabama and Tuskegee.
Brown has to charm and cajole athletes from outside the borders of the state of West Virginia.
Let’s see how he does that before any race to judgment can be realistically made as to how he will fare when fighting the brushfires he is sure to see in Lubbock, Stillwater, Ames and Waco.