2016 West Virginia Mountaineers Football Preview

Team Info
West Virginia Mountaineers
Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen
2015 record: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Big 12
2015 Bowl result: Beat Arizona State 43-42 in the Cactus Bowl
2016 returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense

Betting Info
Odds to Win 2017 College Football Championship Game: 200/1
Odds to Win 2016 Big 12 Championship: 15/1
Regular Season Wins: under 7 1/2 -120 / over 7 1/2 +100
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West Virginia should have an explosive offense in 2016.
West Virginia should have an explosive offense in 2016.

West Virginia had a roller coaster season last year to say the least. The Mountaineers started off the season 3-0 but then October came. West Virginia lost four games in a row to the Big 12’s best teams giving up at least 33 points in every game. The Mountaineers then won 4 straight games before losing to Kansas State by a single point in the regular season finale. West Virginia would then win a wild 43-42 shootout against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl. Coach Dana Holgorsen managed to save his job with the team’s performance in November, but he is still on the hot seat. He gets 12 starters back from last year.

Here is a more in-depth look at the  Mountaineers in all three phases of the games, plus an analysis of the schedule.

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Offense

Eight starters are back for new coordinator Joe Wickline. The Mountaineers averaged 480 yards per game including 228 rushing yards and 34 points per game. WVU was #42 or better in all offensive categories nationally.

Senior quarterback Skyler Howard returns to lead the offense. He threw for over 3,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and also rushed for 502 yards on 157 carries with 6 touchdowns. William Crest, Jr. will be the back-up again. He threw 25 passes last year with an interception, plus he rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Wendell Smallwood is now with the Philadelphia Eagles after rushing for over 1,500 yards with 9 touchdowns, making 26 catches for 160 yards. Rushel Shell III takes over as the feature back after rushing for 708 yards with 8 touchdowns, and making 16 catches. West Virginia brought in a trio of highly touted freshmen at running back led by Kennedy McCoy. The quarterbacks will continue to get a lot of carries.

The Mountaineers return their top two receivers. Shelton Gibson had 37 catches for 887 yards and 9 touchdowns. Daikel Shorts, Jr. had 45 catches for 528 yards and 5 touchdowns. West Virginia does lose Jordan Thompson who had 32 catches for 509 yards last year. Jovon Durante had 24 catches and 5 touchdowns. He returns along with Ka’Raun White and Gary Jennings, and all three should get a lot of targets as well. Jon Lewis will start at tight end.

West Virginia returns four starters on the offensive line. Guards Kyle Bosch and Adam Pankey are both back along with center Tyler Orlovsky and right tackle Marcell Lazard. The line looks to be more consistent in 2016.

Defense

Last season, West Virginia showed signs of being a great defensive team, holding four opponents to six points or less including 2 shutouts. The Mountaineers allowed 396 yards per game and 25 points. The defense made their living off turnovers with a +31 turnover margin. However, they could take a step back with only four starters returning for coordinator Tony Gibson. The defense took a further hit when safety Dravon Askew-Henry tore his ACL during fall practice and is lost for the season. He had 59 tackles last year.

Ends Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown are both back in 2016. Nwachikwu had 13 tackles for loss including 8.5 sacks last year. Darrien Howard will be the nose tackle.

West Virginia must replace all three starters at linebacker. Xavier Preston could be a star in the making on the strong side, but he will be suspended for the first game. Justin Arndt, Al-Rasheed Benton and Sean Walters will also be in the mix at linebacker.

The secondary also lost a lot of talent in Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley and K.J. Dillon. When Joseph was injured after four games, the defense was never really the same after that. Askew-Henry was supposed to be the heart and soul of the secondary, and it isn’t clear who will step up. Graduate transfer Maurice Fleming from Iowa or JUCO transfer Kyzir White could be possibilities.

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Special Teams

Kicker Josh Lambert made 21/28 field goals  last year. However, he will be suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the Big 12 Eligibility rules. Mike Molina will serve as the temporary kicker until he returns. Sophomore Billy Kinney takes over as the punter. Durante will return kicks again, but Shelton Gibson returned some last year including a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Jennings will return punts again.

Schedule and Outlook

West Virginia opens with home games against Missouri and Youngstown State before a neutral site game against BYU in Landover, MD. The conference schedule begins at home against Kansas State. The rest of the schedule includes road games at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State. TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma and Baylor all come to Morgantown.

The Big 12 is not the conference you want to enter the season with questions on defense. The offense will be fine, but with a challenging schedule this team could struggle to get to six wins and return to a bowl. Holgorsen could be out of a job if that happens.

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