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Phil Steele Predicts 8th Place Finish for West Virginia in the Big 12

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The latest Phil Steele College Football Preview magazine is out and his predictions for West Virginia are on par for what most national outlets have been saying about the team.

While declining to give a straight-up record prediction, Steele predicts an eighth place finish in the Big 12 above only Texas Tech and Kansas.

On a positive note, he does have West Virginia making their third consecutive bowl appearance and thinks that the team can “easily finish higher if they get an upset or two.”

Steele, who was recently profiled by West Virginia’s athletic department, highlighted a discerning trend among the lack of a running game for West Virginia as part of his reasoning for the prediction.

According to Steele, in the last 17 years West Virginia has averaged over 150+ rushing yards 12 times and won at least eight games each of those years. In the five years in which they didn’t average 150+ rushing yards, they eclipsed six wins only once.

Steele has West Virginia tied with Texas Tech for the worst running back unit in the conference. He projects them to average 103.2 rushing yards per game which is above Texas Tech’s 84.2 average, but far below Iowa State’s 144.4 projected average which is the next highest in the conference.

Steele does have high hopes for JT Daniels, placing him in a group of six behind Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel. West Virginia’s quarterback unit is tied for second in the conference with Texas (Quinn Ewers), Kansas State (Adrian Martinez), Oklahoma State (Spencer Sanders), TCU (Chandler Morris) and Texas Tech (Tyler Shough). As previously stated Gabriel, a transfer from UCF, is listed as the conference’s top quarterback. He is seventh on Steele’s pre-season Heisman candidate list.

West Virginia was given the 36th best quarterback unit in the country by Steele. It’s the only unit that Steele ranks in his top three in the conference. The offensive and defensive line units both sit at four though and around the same spot nationally as their quarterback unit. The offensive line is 37th while the defensive line is 27th. Those are the only three units Steele ranked among the top 58 in the country for each category.

The trenches are the major positive for  West Virginia, with star defensive tackle Dante Stills and offensive tackle Wyatt Milum each taking first-team All Big 12 nods by Phil Steele.

Joining those two with All-Big 12 nods are wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton (second team), kicker Casey Legg (second team), quarterback JT Daniels (third team), tight end (Mike O’Laughlin), center Zach Frazier (third team), offensive guard Doug Nester (third team), linebacker Lance Dixon (third team), running back Tony Mathis (fourth team), wide receiver Sam James (fourth team), defensive end Jared Bartlett (fourth team), cornerback Charles Woods (fourth team) and long snapper Austin Brinkman (fourth team).

While the defensive line is strong according to Steele he is not high on the defensive backfield, which returns only one starter in cornerback Charles Woods. He has it ranked as the second-worst in the Big 12, above only Kansas.

That lack of experience also plays a major factor for Steele. With only 11 returning starters (seven on offense, four on defense) he ranks the team 115th in experience. That doesn’t reflect entirely in his power rankings though, in which they are ranked at No. 53 in the entire country.

West Virginia doesn’t crack his top 60 in his preseason poll, which is a prediction in how the season will shake out and also considers strength of schedule while his power rankings are just the talent on the roster.

West Virginia was given the 21st toughest schedule in the country and play in the fourth toughest conference according to Steele, with the (in order) SEC, Big 10 and ACC ranking ahead of them.

The schedule also contains two teams, Pittsburgh and Texas, that Steele listed as two of his 12 surprise teams which he says is a team expected to be out of the preseason AP top 10 that can still compete for a College Football Playoff berth.

Pittsburgh (No. 9) and Texas (No. 21) are both among his top 25 most talented programs and are joined by West Virginia opponents Oklahoma (No. 15), Oklahoma State (No. 22), Baylor (No. 23) and Kansas State (No. 25).

Note: There are nine different power rankings in Phil Steele’s magazine, we will only talk about those three here.

Despite the low ranking, Steele has a high opinion on head coach Neal Brown who is entering an important season. He ranks the West Virginia coaching staff as the fifth best in the conference behind (in order) Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State.

He expects the team to be exactly even in point differential, scoring and giving up an average 26.8 points a game. That would rank 84th in the country. Yards wise, he gives them a positive differential of just 13.8 yards per game which would be 78th in the country.

West Virginia’s season is set to start on Thursday, September 1 at 8:00 p.m. against Pitt in a game that will be attended by College Football Gameday. As stated, Pitt is projected to be the ninth best team in the country by Steele and win the ACC Coastal division, but fall to Clemson in the championship game.

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