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What’s One Big Roster Issue That Could Derail WVU in 2024?

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WVU Football safety Aubrey Burks calling signals to Anthony Wilson and secondary against Oklahoma State

While some believe WVU is poised for a big season, a national college football writer sees a major weakness on the roster that may hold the Mountaineers back.

During an appearance on Mike Drop with Mike Asti, Bill Bender of the Sporting News described his issues with West Virginia’s team and why he’s buying into Neal Brown lifting the trophy as Big 12 champion.

“The backend, you know. When you’re relying on transfers in the secondary in a conference where teams throw it around and this defense still averaged, allowed, 26 points per game,” explained Bender.

He even went into more detail using a key team statistic from the 2023 season.

“So West Virginia was 4-4 when allowing 21 points or more last year. And you’re going to give up more than 21 points when you’re facing the quarterbacks that they’re going to face this year.”

Despite Beanie Bishop becoming a consensus All-American and the defense’s ranking in terms of ball-hawk rate, WVU did still struggle defensively a times, especially when defending the deep ball.

Separate from his issues with the secondary, Bender also feels the first five Big 12 games could sink WVU and ruin the big expectations before November.

“West Virginia caught a tough schedule as far as this is concerned. Not only is their non league tough with Penn State, but the first five Big 12 games will tell you everything,” Bill Bender of the Sporting News told Asti about why he’s projecting West Virginia to finish in more in the middle of the pack instead of contending for the conference title.

National Writer Points to Schedule as Obstacle for WVU Football in 2024

And one way or another, West Virginia’s first five games will be a barometer for the season. After opening up the season with three out of conference games, the Mountaineers will play a stretch of Big 12 opponents expected to contend. In that span, WVU will host Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State and face Oklahoma State and Arizona on the road.

Bender’s comments align with his most recent bowl projection for the Mountaineers and where Neal Brown’s team fell on the Big 12 media preseason poll.

While WVU fans are dreaming of the program winning its first Big 12 title, the collective media has West Virginia in the No. 7 spot in their standings. Instead, the media is producing Utah will lift the trophy to cap off the Utes debut season in the conference.

Bender has WVU against former Big East foe Rutgers in his most recent bowl projections. The Guaranteed Rate Bowl will take place on Dec. 26. WVU last appeared in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in 2021, losing to Minnesota.

If this prediction comes true, it would mean WVU would fall well shy of its goal of winning the program’s first Big 12 title. Instead of West Virginia claiming a 16th conference championship all-time, Bender has Utah representing the Big 12 in the College Football Playoff in their debut season.

Despite the increased expectations from fans and the surprise success of 2023, the Sporting News’ projection falls in line with the ESPN FPI. Major sportsbooks also have West Virginia’s over/under win total only set at 6.5 and view the Mountaineers as a heavy underdog in their season opening game to Penn State, granted Athlon likely agrees with the latter since they have the Nittany Lions as their No. 8 best team in the country and a contender for making the College Football Playoff.

This projection is similar to where veteran college football writer Phil Steele has WVUand the rest of the Big 12 in his top 40. Steele currently has West Virginia at No. 35, placing Neal Brown’s team sixth in the Big 12. He also has newcomer Utah as the clear front runner in the conference at No. 8, Oklahoma State at No. 15, Kansas State at No. 23, Iowa State taking a step forward and coming in at No. 29, Arizona at No. 30 in their debut season and then Kansas two spots behind WVU at No. 37.

For a more favorable comparison, Athlon Sports has West Virginia just outside their current top 25 at No. 26. Taking an even bigger leap, Siris XM radio host Ari Temkin actually believes WVU will win the conference and reach the College Football Playoff.

National Publication Changes Tune on WVU Football Compared to Last Year

But despite the increased expectations from fans and the surprise success of 2023, the ESPN FPI is projecting WVU to struggle to even reach bowl eligibility. Major sportsbooks also have West Virginia’s over/under win total only set at 6.5 and view the Mountaineers as a heavy underdog in their season opening game to Penn State, granted Athlon likely agrees with the latter since they have the Nittany Lions as their No. 8 best team in the country and a contender for making the College Football Playoff.

Fans may argue the Mountaineers are being disrespected by some while others may feel talk of winning a conference title is premature, but one thing is certain – Brown and the rest of the coaching staff prefer to be the underdog. However, any of the low projections are interesting, taking into account most of the key players are returning and the schedule is arguably similar to last year.

After a 9-4 (6-3) season and a Duke’s Mayo Bowl victory, West Virginia is hungry to start the 2024 season getting revenge on the Nittany Lions. Penn State beat WVU in the 2023 season opener at Beaver Stadium 38-15. Penn State would finish the year at 10-3 (7-2), losing to Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl

Of course, the success or failure of the 2024 Mountaineers will largely depend on the play of Garrett Greene and if he lives up the hype or stays stagnate.

Watch the full segment of Bender on Mike Drop below.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. joe calangelo

    July 8, 2024 at 5:03 pm

    well alrighty then

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