With fall camp starting up this week, another WVU football season is on the horizon. And for better or worse, the 2023 season will go down as one of the most important for the Mountaineers.
If Neal Brown can get things turned around and reignite a climb, WVU could be on track and set up to contend into the future of a revamped Big 12. But if not and another losing season happens, the Brown era will be over, will be regarded as one of the darker periods in the history of West Virginia football and ignite more questions about how the program will proceed moving forward.
Before we get to that cross roads, it’s about preparing for a tough season opening trip to State College to face a Penn State team many believe has a chance to make the College Football Playoff. And unlike in the spring, WVU is able to use the full actual complete roster it will have throughout the season on the field.
Here are some of the biggest storylines I’ll be watching and will loom over WVU until answers develop one way or another this coming season.
Who Will be Starting Quarterback?
The Mountaineers will likely only go as far as its quarterback takes them. Head coach Neal Brown hasn’t named a starting quarterback yet, and won’t be doing so until after fall camp, but whoever ends up leading WVU under center will have to at his best for this group to have a chance at contending. Some want it to be Garrett Greene due to his experience edge and big play potential while others feel it’s time to turn to Nicco Marchiol since he’s a former top recruit and arguably takes better care of the football.
Even though some growing pains should be expected from a young quarterback opening a season as a starter in a major conference for the first time, and that will be the case with either of them, Brown and his WVU football team won’t be able to afford to wait around for Greene or Marchiol to figure anything out. A tough schedule leaves no room for error out of the gate. Brown has also hinted at the possibility of seeing both in action all year.
Is the Defense Deep Enough?
WVU’s defense took a big step back in 2022, struggling most of the season. With Dante Stills in the NFL and Charles Woods at SMU, Brown and defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley will look to Sean Martin and Aubrey Burks to step up into leadership roles.
But besides just fill voids, a lack of depth could be a concern again for the Mountaineers. After Woods went down in Week 1 last season, the team secondary was never able to find a vocal leader again. Burks may very well become that guy, but is there enough around him? Transfers have been brought in, including some like Beanie Bishop with Power 5 experience, but experts point to size and a significant drop from starters to the backups as possible issues.
Brown has voiced confidence in Lesley and the rest of the defensive coaching staff, arguing they didn’t forget how to coach from when they lead a successful defense just a couple years ago. Lesley’s plan has been to perfect the fundamentals and try to generate more turnovers. We will soon see if he sees the fruits of that labor on the field.
Can CJ Donaldson Take a Step in Year 2?
If nothing else, something the WVU offense knows it can rely on throughout the 2023 season is its running game. The most consistent aspect of the Mountaineers last year was being able to produce on the ground. Despite losing Tony Mathis, it’s still reasonable to expect West Virginia’s running game could be just as good, if not better, this coming season. And the fact sophomore running back CJ Donaldson did decide to run it back (pun intended) with WVU is a major reason why.
Donaldson put up 526 yards for an average of six yards per touch and scored eight touchdowns during his freshman season. That’s solid production for someone who had never played the position before in his life. And it’s great when you factor in he had his season cut short and missed several games with injuries. If Donaldson can stay healthy, and Brown brought up how he’s been getting into better shape to handle more work, there’s plenty of reason to believe he could actually be even better.
Will WVU Get Enough from Receivers?
Losing almost every player at a position from one season to the next is sure to lead to questions.
When almost all of your production from a position departs the program, either by transferring or to pursue the NFL, you are forced to go and find replacements that can fill that void immediately. Devin Carter was brought in with the plan to replace his childhood friend Bryce Ford-Wheaton as the new number one. West Virginia will need him to increase the numbers he put up at North Carolina State, but he’s shown flashes that he can be that guy and has been a leader for the rest of the receivers so far. Adding Carter was a win for Brown, even if Ford-Wheaton may deserve an assist.
Carter being a top guy is a necessity. If he doesn’t produce, nothing else will matter as far as WVU’s passing game. But with that said, the rest of the group will be important too and is now full of size and speed. Noah Massey‘s 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame will be difficult for defends to deal with. Ja’Shaun Poke has the speed that could make him an option in the return game for special teams too. EJ Horton should be a solid threat. There’s also a belief Cortez Braham could step up with more opportunities.
Other notable questions:
Will offense be better off with Neal Brown back to calling the plays?
How much involvement will Chad Scott actually have in offense?
Can defense be more consistent?
Can defense force more turnovers?
Will WVU be able to not miss a beat kicking wise without Casey Legg?
Who will be WVU’s main returner and will the return game be better?
How much patience will AD Wren Baker show if the team gets off to a slow start?
Will offensive line live up to hype?
Can West Virginia beat Pitt and claim Backyard Brawl revenge?
Ho will the Mountaineers perform against the new members of the Big 12?
Will Zach Frazier make himself an early round NFL draft pick?
The questions are truly endless, but we will find out most of the answers soon enough. This is why they play the games.
Mike Asti will have complete coverage of fall camp and the entire 2023 season here at WV Sports Now.
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