West Virginia football coach Neal Brown has preached the importance of improvement all offseason. For the Mountaineers to become legitimate contenders in the Big 12, Brown has said all they need to do is get better.
Brown continued that messaging Wednesday at Big 12 Football Media Days in Arlington, Texas.
“Our theme for this year is to be better and that’s our objective in every phase,” Brown said to an audience of media members from across the conference. “Culturally, our buy-in is extremely high right now. We’ve made tremendous progress over the last two years with the culture in our football program. On the field, I like our team. I think our leadership is better than at any point since I was named head coach.”
WVU improved from 5-7 in Brown’s first season in 2019 to a 6-4 record and a bowl victory last year. The Mountaineers’ running game improved drastically in 2020 and their defense was one of the best in the entire country. Brown hopes to continue that momentum into 2021 but said those improvements actually began at the end of the 2019 season.
“We were able to go on the road and win two out of our last three games, which was a huge turning point,” Brown explained. “It gave us an opportunity heading into the ’20 season to take a step. If we had been able to play our full schedule (in 2020) then I think the improvement would’ve been even more so. We were one of the most improved units on both sides of the ball.”
It will not be easy for the Mountaineers this season. In addition to the always-challenging Big 12 conference schedule, WVU sports the toughest non-conference schedule in the league. West Virginia is the only team in the conference that will play more than one Power Five opponent in non-conference play, taking on Maryland and Virginia Tech in addition to Long Island.
“It’s very challenging, we play 11 Power Five (teams),” Brown said. “I think we’re one of four universities to play 11 Power Fives, nine league games and then we play two regional rivals. And the regional rivals are important to our fanbase. We open up in Maryland, which is going to be a challenge and then in week three we welcome Virginia Tech, which, going back to the Big East days, is one of the main rivals for our program.”
WVU will also open Big 12 play against Oklahoma in week four, who was again tapped to win the conference this year in the preseason poll.
Despite Brown’s high hopes for improvement, WVU was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, the same spot where they finished the season in 2020.
“You can’t control where you’re at in preseason. I’m sure there’s reasons why we’re there,” Brown said. “I tell our players, ‘you either prove them right or you prove them wrong.’ Our goal this season is to prove them wrong and to do that, we’ve got to play better. To be able to play better, you’ve got to practice better. That’s our goal, that’s what we’re focusing on.”