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ESPN’s Mark Schlabach Drops Predictions for WVU Football in 2022



Mark Schlabach, a Senior Writer at ESPN, released an article on Friday afternoon containing predictions for the Power 5 conferences in college football.

West Virginia was heavily in the mix for Schlabach’s thoughts for the Big 12 conference, with having Mountaineers quarterback JT Daniels‘ mentioned in his “Three bold predictions for the Big 12” being the highlight.

According to Schlabach, Daniels will throw for 30 touchdowns this season, while also adding that Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown called Daniels “the smartest quarterback we’ve ever had.” He will start in West Virginia’s season opener against Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl on Thursday night.

“Daniels’ football smarts and talent have never been questioned,” Schlabach said in his post. “He’s at his third FBS school, and this is a last opportunity to prove he’s more than another Tate Martell. Daniels will throw more than 30 touchdowns and have the Mountaineers in the hunt for a bowl game.

“The former five-star recruit won the starting job at USC and Georgia, but couldn’t stay healthy. By season’s end, more than a few Georgia fans will still be questioning why coach Kirby Smart chose Stetson Bennett over Daniels.”

Daniels, who is entering his fifth college season overall and first at West Virginia, will be under the control of Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell. This will be the second time the two have been paired together, as Harrell oversaw Daniels during his sophomore year at Southern California.

That season, Daniels was limited to just 215 yards passing and 1 touchdown before tearing his ACL in the Trojans’ season opener. In his freshman campaign, Daniels threw for 2,672 yards and 14 scores, while being only the second quarterback to ever start a season opener as a true freshman for USC. After the emergence of Kedon Slovis, Daniels transferred to Georgia before his junior season.

He then saw a similar situation while playing for Smart. Daniels eventually won the starting job and finished as the first string for the Bulldogs through the end of his junior season. In his second year, another injury put Bennett into the starting role, which Daniels attempted to get back after posting multiple strong starts, but Smart eventually chose Bennett as the full-time starter.

With Daniels back under Harrell, and with Harrell’s track record in the past as a quarterbacks coach, Schlabach’s prediction has some back-up.

Harrell is now with his third team in the same role. Along with his stint at USC from 2019-21, Harrell was at North Texas from 2016-18.

In his six previous years before coming to West Virginia, Harrell has had a quarterback throw for 30 touchdowns in a season twice, with Slovis hitting the mark (30) in his first full season as USC’s starter in 2019, as well as North Texas’ then-signal caller Mason Fine tallying 31 under Harrell in 2017.

This was also Fine’s first year as the full-time starter for the Mean Green, matching Slovis by accomplishing the feat as a sophomore. Fine also nearly hit 30 scores in each of the next two seasons, throwing for 27 scores as a junior in 2018 and 29 in his 2019 senior campaign.

With the possible strong offense coming under Harrell, Schlabach countered this by picking the Mountaineers to finish seventh in the Big 12 with a 6-6 record, the same as 2021, while going 4-5 in conference play. He also dubbed West Virginia head coach Neal Brown as the “coach on the hot seat.”

Brown is entering his fourth year at the helm of the Mountaineers and is under contract through the 2026 season. Though he has finished under .500 in two of his three years at West Virginia, the veteran coach has guided the Mountaineers to two bowl appearances, going 1-1, with the win coming in the 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Brown was a successful coach at Troy University before coming to West Virginia, as the Trojans posted three consecutive 10-win seasons with three bowl victories and shared two Sun Belt Conference championships from 2016-18. This came after Brown and the Trojans went 4-8 in his first season in 2015.

West Virginia was 5-7 in Brown’s first year with the Mountaineers, but have increased their win totals to six wins in both 2020 and 2021 in the powerful Big 12 conference, battling the likes of Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas, matching the prediction.

The Mountaineers can gain a momentum boost right from the start in Thursday’s season opener against Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl, which would be West Virginia’s third win to open the year in four seasons under Brown.

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