Key losses: RB Charles Sims, DT Shaq Rowell, DE Will Clarke, SS Darwin Cook
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 13 at Maryland; Sept. 20 vs. Oklahoma; Oct. 18 vs. Baylor; Nov. 20 vs. Kansas State
Projected win percentage: 38.5 percent
Clint Trickett threw for 1,605 yards last season.
Over/under Vegas odds: 4.5 wins
Instant impact newcomers: DE Shaquille Riddick, FS Dravon Henry. Riddick was one of the top defensive players in the FCS last year for Gardner-Webb. He should give the Mountaineers an element of pass rushing they previously might have lacked. Henry, one of the top recruits in West Virginia’s freshman signing class, is pushing for a starting job at free safety right away. In Henry and sophomore Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers could have two young cornerstones to anchor the secondary for years to come.
High point from 2013: The Mountaineers got off to a tough September, including a 37-0 loss to Maryland that was even uglier than the final score. But the following week with a new quarterback, West Virginia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Big 12 by knocking off No. 11 Oklahoma State 30-21 in Morgantown. In his first start, Trickett was 24-for-50 for 309 yards and a touchdown, and the West Virginia secondary put the clamps on Cowboys QB J.W. Walsh.
Low point from 2013: Kansas has only one Big 12 victory in its past 30 tries. That lone win came against West Virginia last season as the Jayhawks snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 win over the Mountaineers. West Virginia went on to squander a huge lead the following week and fell in triple overtime to Iowa State, which ended the Mountaineers’ season with six losses in their final seven games.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Trickett stays healthy, limits his turnovers and spreads the ball around to West Virginia’s bevy of playmakers. The defense holds up, too, with more depth and a playmaking secondary led by Joseph, Worley and Henry. The Mountaineers beat Maryland in a key nonconference game and go 8-4 to get back to a bowl game, with three of their losses coming to top-10 teams.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: West Virginia gets off to a 1-3 start against a rugged early-season schedule. The rest of the season doesn’t go much better. The quarterbacks can’t stop turning the ball over, and the defense doesn’t improve in the Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime. West Virginia goes 3-9 and its Big 12 career record drops to 8-19.
They said it: “I think our players in our locker room understand what the Big 12 is all about. They understand how challenging it is. They understand what the venues are like. They understand what the teams are like, personnel is like, coaching is like, style of play is like. I obviously tried my hardest to be able to relay that to not only the players, but the coaches and the administration and the fan base. And until we got through it for a couple of years, I knew it was going to be challenging.” – West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen