It’s no secret the 2023 season is going to be a very important one for the WVU football program. Another losing season and the Mountaineers will no doubt be on the hunt for a new head coach and hoping to trust the climb of a new era.
But turning things around and getting West Virginia back to glory won’t be easy, especially with so much uncertainty looming over this team.
In honor of Big 12 Media Days, here are the top burning questions prior to kickoff of the 2023 season. Of course, there are others, but these are the ones that will impact the season the most.
How Will Whoever Starts at QB Perform?
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.
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.
Having Donaldson all season will help stabilize an offense that’s expected to be run-heavy and add a threat of explosiveness for defenses to worry about.
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.
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, 230-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.
With so much uncertainty around the future of WVU football, what’s your current confidence level in the 2023 Mountaineers?
Vote in our poll below.
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