Can West Virginia become a consistent and contending team?
Some of the givens for the 2015 season are that Baylor and Texas Christian are going to be very good. And that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State will have enough players to make West Virginia bring its best games to beat them.
And how do the Mountaineers be more consistent and more trouble for their 2015 opponents?
Improvement has to be shown from the beginning with the sometimes awful special teams, especially the coverage units.
Everybody has injuries, but West Virginia seems to incur more than its share of the type of injuries that keep players away from games for a month or more.
If this season’s game plans involve running backs Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Donte Thomas-Williams as the team’s main attractions, then the spotlight will shine brightly on the play of the offensive line. If the Mountaineers don’t have a quality offensive line then they won’t have a quality season.
The corps of receivers is inexperienced, but game plans can’t ignore them if quarterback Skyler Howard is going to do more than run.
The high-scoring opponents of the past will be the high-scoring opponents of 2015 if secondary regulars Terrell Chestnut, Daryl Worley, KJ Dillon, Karl Joseph and Rick Rumph don’t become an asset and cause turnovers.
Linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski, Jared Barber, Isaiah Bruce and Shaq Petteway all need to stay healthy and provide some sacks and pressure on quarterbacks.
The three down linemen in the 3-3-5 defense can’t rely wholly on the secondary and linebackers, and players like Noble Nwachukwu have be as hard on opponents as they are on people trying to remember how to spell their names.
Last year’s reliable placekicker, Josh Lambert, can’t be held responsible for 40 percent of any game’s points.
In many Big 12 games, West Virginia will have less room for error than its opponent. Staying away from 15-yard personal foul and late hit along the sidelines penalties will be a must if the Mountaineers are to win on the road. Of the nine Big 12 games, five are on the road.
Home dates against Georgia Southern and Maryland seem to be must-win games if the Mountaineers have a eight-win season in mind.
Neither Georgia Southern nor Maryland have better players than West Virginia — at least before injuries begin taking their toll.
Finding an early-season rhythm and then maintaining it seems to be critical to having a good season.
Hills and valleys, a dearth of pass receptions from the basically unknown corps of receivers, morale-killing special teams, and too many unforced mistakes and penalties will not be overcome when playing games at Baylor, Texas Christian, and Oklahoma.
Noteworthy seasons must come from Howard, the defensive secondary, Lambert and the offensive line if West Virginia is to enjoy another bowl-bound season.