ESPN’s Bill Connelly, using the websites SP+ rankings, gives West Virginia 34% odds to make a bowl game in 2022 and an average win prediction of 4.4 wins.
ESPN is the latest national outlet to predict a less than six-win season for the team, which is becoming the consensus prediction among such outlets.
Connelly also has the team finishing No. 9 in the Big 12, above only Kansas. Kansas is the only other team in Connelly’s prediction to finish with less than six wins and a less than 50% chance at making a bowl game.
Connelly wrote about West Virginia, as well as the other four bottom half Big 12 teams (TCU, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas) in part one of his Big 12 prediction. Part one obviously focuses on the teams predicted to finish in spots 6-10 in the conference.
Reasoning for his West Virginia prediction come with the team’s 127th ranking in terms of returning talent. For context, there are only 131 FBS team in college football.
”Others have something to prove,” wrote Connelly. “West Virginia and Iowa State currently come in 127th and 128th in my FBS returning production rankings; the Mountaineers have huge holes to fill in their skill corps, secondary and linebacking corps.”
With Iowa State being ranked around West Virginia in terms of returning talent, one would think that the SP+ rankings would reflect that similarity considering it is based heavily around returning talent.
Judging by the rankings though, the new additions at Iowa State are expected to make a bigger impact there than at West Virginia with Iowa State coming in at No. 56 in the rankings overall and West Virginia falling to No. 75.
The most notable addition by West Virginia that could make an impact is quarterback JT Daniels. Connelly put whether or not Daniels could fix Brown’s struggles as an offensive coach as one of his “burning questions” for the five teams that he wrote about.
“Neal Brown’s head-coaching career has been rather confusing…” wrote Connelly. “He moved up the coaching ladder due to offensive prowess. When he took over as Troy’s head coach, Brown thrived … with defense.
“His Trojans won 31 combined games from 2016 to 2018, and in all three years they fielded top-50 defenses, per SP+, with offenses that ranked between 70th and 90th. He has struggled to generate traction at West Virginia, going 17-18 in three seasons, but his success has once again come on D, where his Mountaineers peaked at 17th in 2020. In seven combined seasons as a head coach, he has yet to field a top-70 offense. Now would be a great time for that to change.”
Connelly then goes into breaking down why he does not have much faith in the defense for West Virginia being the better of the two units like it has in the past. He places a large emphasis on the returning places while questioning whether or not the incoming players can make a difference.
“Of the nine defenders who recorded at least 500 snaps in 2021, seven are gone, including four defensive backs,” wrote Connelly. “Brown and coordinator Jordan Lesley still have proven disruptors like tackle Dante Stills, end Taijh Alston and linebacker Jared Bartlett, but the fact that Brown brought in seven transfers and three jucos on defense speaks loud.”
Diving back into the offense he mentions the experience the offensive line has as a positive, but losing running back Leddie Brown and slot wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. as negatives. He mentions that replacing quarterback Jarret Doege with Daniels increases the chance of a big play, but he questions whether or not Daniels can remain healthy.
”If Daniels can stay on the field, he could help receivers Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James and Kaden Prather fully realize their big-play potential,” wrote Connelly. “A ground game centered around Tony Mathis Jr. and Clemson transfer Lyn-J Dixon could be efficient, too.
”But the Mountaineers face a massive burden of proof, and Daniels’ injury history hovers like a rain cloud. Without a breakthrough on this side of the ball, this could be a shaky season in Morgantown.”
Connelly also names 10 of his favorite players among the bottom-five teams and lists two West Virginia players in Stills and Bartlett. Among his 10 honorable mentions, left guard James Gmiter is the lone West Virginia representative.