Grier, Crawford better have wide shoulders
MORGANTOWN – When last seen West Virginia was leaving the Russell Athletic Bowl dragging a season-ending loss to Miami with it.
But that was only the third loss of the 2016 season and the Mountaineers had finished 7-2 in the Big 12 football standings.
Some turnover and turmoil have roiled the Big 12 waters since last season. Texas has a new coach. Oklahoma has a new coach. Baylor has a new coach. Any changes at Kansas or Iowa State go mostly unnoticed. West Virginia doesn’t raise many influential eyebrows because it’s way off in the mountains somewhere and hasn’t accomplished what Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State have over the years.
West Virginia has no natural rivalries with any of its nine brethren from at least 900 miles away.
Because the league has missed out on the four-team playoff for the national championship it will attempt to change its fortunes by parading out a Big 12 championship game pitting the first and second teams in the final conference standings.
After facing Virginia Tech, East Carolina and Delaware State in its only non-conference games, the Mountaineers begin league play on Sept. 23 at Kansas. After a week off, the schedule picks up again at Texas Christian on Oct. 7.
An important list of transfers, returning injured players and a returning player who left in search of greener football pastures seem to hold the weight of the 2017 season on their shoulders.
Not since Jeff Hostetler came from Penn State in the early 1980’s has a transfer quarterback received as much attention as junior Will Grier, a 6-foot-2, 204 pound expected-starter coming in from Florida.
There is no other quarterback on WVU’s roster who has the needed skills to guide the team to another winning year – much less another 10-win season. Grier’s health is as important to WVU as Dak Prescott’s is to the Dallas Cowboys.
Grier was not a sitter at Florida. He started for two seasons before running afoul of the school’s and NCAA rules.
Running back Justin Crawford ran for 1,184 yards a year ago. Like the situation at quarterback, there isn’t another runner near his quality on this team.
Grier will aim his throws at Ka’Raun White (48 catches) and Jovon Durante (35 catches), at least in the early games.
Kyle Bosch is the best of the offensive linemen, but the offensive line could be troubled by a severe lack of depth and not many exceptional athletes even with the starters.
A player who missed the 2016 season is defensive back Dravon Askew-Henry, now expected to be a leader and playmaker in the secondary. Elijah Battle and Kyzir White are experienced defenders in the secondary.
Wide receiver David Sills V left the program, but now returns looking for more throws in his direction and more playing time. The kicker is Mike Molina, who made 15 of his 22 attempts last season.
Skyler Howard was WVU’s quarterback in 2016, and there were able linebackers and offensive linemen with him.
The Big 12 has a reputation as an “offense first and foremost – and a defense – oh, there is a defense in the Big 12?” conference.
However, West Virginia won several close conference games last year with its defense.
The season opener comes on Sunday, Sept. 3, at 7:30 p.m. at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. against Virginia Tech. Tickets are plentiful – because the cheapest seat goes for $120 in the fourth level, just below the flight pattern of the crows and pigeons. Any pew close to the field itself will cost $340 to watch and soak up the pageantry of college football.
West Virginia will hold its annual Fan Day on Sunday, Aug. 13, at 1 p.m. in the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility on campus.
Player and coach autographs all around, and then it’s down to the serious business of readying for the Hokies and the supposed wild-scoring bunch from the Big 12 Conference.