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1. Welcome back to the land of the living
For what it's worth, I like some of the moves he's been making. Promoting Keith Patterson to defensive coordinator in 2013 worked out pretty well until injuries and a complete lack of depth led to a late slide. And when Patterson left for Arizona State, I liked what Holgorsen did to replace him; he promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to coordinator and brought on coaching veteran Tom Bradley -- Joe Paterno's final defensive coordinator -- as defensive line coach and senior associate head coach. [...]
Holgorsen's fate will be decided by whether he has enough talent, on the field and on his coaching staff. ... If WVU improves from 76th in the F/+ rankings to 50th, the Mountaineers could still be 2-6 heading into November. And by that point, the Holgorsen-on-the-hot-seat buzz will have very much taken over the narrative.
It's been an odd few years for fans of West Virginia, and I'm not even talking about the "became conference foes with teams in Kansas and West Texas" part. The Mountaineers got a taste of truly elite football -- they finished first in the 2007 F/+ rankings but lost to at home to rival Pitt and missed out on the BCS Championship game, then lost head coach Rich Rodriguez to Michigan -- and quickly grew intolerant of merely solid play.
Rodriguez's replacement Bill Stewart won nine games each year and led WVU to rankings of 31st, 27th, and 23rd, respectively, from 2008-10. But in an impatient attempt to segue from Stewart to the next great offensive era in Morgantown, athletic director Oliver Luck installed offensive whiz Dana Holgorsen as Stewart's head coach in waiting. Stewart didn't really like this very much, attempted to sabotage the move behind the scenes, and ended up "resigning" earlier than expected.
Holgorsen took over in 2011 and led a flawed team to a title in the even more flawed Big East, and a nearly perfect performance against a demoralized Clemson defense led to drastically unreasonable expectations for 2012. The Mountaineers raced out to a 5-0 start that year ... and then lost 14 of 20 games.
The talent Holgorsen had inherited -- receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, quarterback Geno Smith, etc. -- left, and the new guys couldn't produce at the same level. And a once-dominant defense (ninth in Def. S&P+ in 2007, fifth in 2010), collapsed to 53rd in 2011, then 85th in both 2012 and 2013. And with major turnover on offense, WVU thudded to 4-8 in 2013.
Instead of a serving as a head-coaching understudy for a year, Holgorsen ended up jumping straight into the role, and there were bumps, to put it kindly. 2014 was to be the season in which we determined whether he could engineer a rebound.
He did, at least to a degree. I figured WVU would jump back up to about 50th or so, but despite a late, injury-related slide, the Mountaineers finished at 40th. Receiver Kevin White had a breakout year, and the defense surged back toward respectability. There were still issues -- the run game was poor, and special teams were incredibly hit-or-miss -- but this was a sound team that showed well against Alabama and TCU, thumped Baylor, and only got manhandled once.
So what now? The defense looks like a true strength, but there's turnover at quarterback and receiver, meaning last year's shoddy run game might need to carry extra weight. Recruiting still isn't a strength but is improving, and while there are some brutal road trips on the horizon, there are enough likely wins on the home slate that another bowl trip is likely.
WVU got impatient with top-30 performances from Stewart, and while last season was a nice step forward, Holgorsen will need to take a couple more to feel safe in his job. But there's more hope now than there was 12 months ago.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 40|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|11-Oct||at Texas Tech||82||37-34||W||46%||-2.3||36%|
|25-Oct||at Oklahoma State||75||34-10||W||71%||13.2||77%|
|29-Nov||at Iowa State||92||37-24||W||66%||9.8||90%|
|29-Dec||vs. Texas A&M||42||37-45||L||31%||-11.3||3%|
|Points Per Game||33.5||35||27.6||74|
2. Losing ground late
The slide had begun before quarterback Clint Trickett's career ended two games early. Trickett missed the Iowa State game with a head injury, then retired from football because of such injuries. But his production had slid dramatically in his final three games. After producing a passer rating of 133 or better in each of his first eight contests (including a 139.9 against Alabama and a 186.0 against Maryland), Trickett managed just 107.3, 111.9, and 69.6 against TCU, Texas, and Kansas State, respectively. Opponents were adjusting, and there's certainly the possibility that Trickett's injury issues were already taking a toll.
- Clint Trickett (first 8 games): 68% completion rate, 12.7 yards/completion, 5% TD rate, 2% INT rate
- Tricket (next 3 games): 63% completion rate, 8.3 yards/completion, 1% TD rate, 5% INT rate
Opponents were adapting, Trickett was less sharp, and the run game still wasn't doing much. And despite steadfast defensive work, the offense's struggles eventually led to a late-season fade. Backup quarterback Skyler Howard took over against KSU and fared reasonably well, but the ball was rolling down the hill.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 9 games): 70% (~top 40 | record: 6-3)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 47% (~top 70 | record: 1-3)
Howard was exciting but inefficient late in his two starts; against ISU and Texas A&M, he averaged 15.4 yards per completion but completed only 48 percent of his passes. Inefficiency led to a serious mid-game slump against A&M, and it is probably the biggest concern heading into 2015. The defense should again be sound, but the offense has a lot of questions to answer.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.6%||64||Succ. Rt. +||108.3||37|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.9||84||Def. FP+||99.0||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.1||85||Redzone S&P+||98.1||69|
|Q1 Rk||26||1st Down Rk||31|
|Q2 Rk||41||2nd Down Rk||46|
|Q3 Rk||90||3rd Down Rk||61|
3. Running more vs. running better
With Geno Smith behind center and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey (not to mention the underrated J.D. Woods) lined up wide, WVU ran just 50 percent of the time on standard downs. Holgorsen will always love the pass, but with more issues in the passing game, WVU's SD run rate moved up to 54 percent in 2013 and 55 percent in 2014.
This is a perfectly understandable approach, but at some point it would probably help if WVU were actually good at running the ball. Despite large splits and a defensive preoccupation with the pass, WVU ranked just 109th in Rushing S&P+ in 2013 and improved only to 80th in 2014 with the addition of four-star Pitt transfer Rushel Shell and the passing game's improvement. Efficiency was decent, and there were few negative rushes, but there was almost no hope for a big gain.
With Trickett and one of the most prolific duos in college football gone (Kevin White and Mario Alford combined for 2,392 receiving yards while fielding more than 52 percent of WVU's passes), the Mountaineers will likely be willing to run the ball even more frequently if they can actually do it effectively. Shell, Wendell Smallwood, and four-star redshirt freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams certainly seem to have upside, and the line returns four players with 47 career starts among them (50 if you include three from Michigan transfer and former blue-chipper Kyle Bosch). In theory, the pieces are in place. But they were in place last year, too. How much further run improvement is it reasonable to expect?
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Skyler Howard||6'0, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8532||56||110||829||8||0||50.9%||4||3.5%||7.0|
|William Crest, Jr.||6'2, 218||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8837||3||4||7||0||0||75.0%||1||20.0%||0.2|
|David Sills||6'3, 198||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8711|
|Chris Chuganov||6'1, 192||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8241|
|Rushel Shell||RB||5'10, 221||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9844||176||788||7||4.5||3.8||36.9%||3||2|
|Wendell Smallwood||RB||5'11, 201||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8525||148||722||2||4.9||3.3||41.9%||3||2|
|Skyler Howard||QB||6'0, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8532||18||172||0||9.6||5.9||72.2%||1||1|
|Jordan Thompson||WR||5'7, 176||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8060||6||37||0||6.2||8.8||50.0%||2||2|
|William Crest, Jr.||QB||6'2, 218||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8837||4||33||1||8.3||3.2||75.0%||1||1|
|Dontae Thomas-Williams||RB||6'1, 224||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9087|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Jordan Thompson||IR-Y||5'7, 176||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8060||70||49||598||70.0%||13.5%||64.3%||8.5||15||8.4||70.7|
|Daikiel Shorts||IR-H||6'1, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8317||45||24||346||53.3%||8.7%||48.9%||7.7||45||7.9||40.9|
|Wendell Smallwood||RB||5'11, 201||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8525||42||31||326||73.8%||8.1%||71.4%||7.8||-40||7.7||38.5|
|Rushel Shell||RB||5'10, 221||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9844||26||21||140||80.8%||5.0%||46.2%||5.4||-104||5.3||16.5|
|Cody Clay||TE||6'4, 265||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8121||11||7||65||63.6%||2.1%||72.7%||5.9||-20||5.8||7.7|
|KJ Myers||IR-H||6'2, 196||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8394||9||4||15||44.4%||1.7%||55.6%||1.7||-37||1.7||1.8|
|Shelton Gibson||WR-X||5'11, 188||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9341||6||4||60||66.7%||1.2%||50.0%||10.0||12||11.3||7.1|
|Vernon Davis||WR-Z||5'10, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8403||6||2||38||33.3%||1.2%||16.7%||6.3||10||3.2||4.5|
|Elijah Wellman||TE||6'2, 232||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7933||6||4||11||66.7%||1.2%||100.0%||1.8||-37||N/A||1.3|
|Darren Arndt||TE||6'3, 248||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
|Devonte Mathis||WR-X||6'1, 212||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8540|
|Jacky Marcellus||IR-Y||5'8, 174||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8497|
|Ricky Rogers||WR-Z||6'0, 201||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8742|
|Lamar Parker||WR-X||5'8, 167||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8681|
|Ka'Raun White||WR||6'2, 190||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7883|
|TE||6'3, 242||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9284|
|Jovon Durante||WR||6'1, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9293|
|Stone Wolfley||WR||6'4, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8705|
|Jacquez Adams||WR||6'0, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8429|
|Gary Jennings||WR||6'2, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8389|
4. Efficiency matters
Howard evidently had a strong spring and by all accounts strengthened his grasp on the starting job. Four-star redshirt freshman William Crest could be used in a utility role -- a little bit of QB, a little bit at skill positions -- but WVU will sink or swim with Howard.
This could be just fine. In three games, he didn't throw a pick, and he took just four sacks. He has excellent mobility, both in turning upfield or escaping the pocket long enough to throw the ball away.
Between Howard's escapability and the tendency of Shell and Howard to avoid negative plays, WVU should be excellent at avoiding drive-killing mistakes. Second-and-10 isn't good, but second-and-13 is worse, after all. Still, Howard wasn't very good at taking the shorter options, and a lot of his scrambling and throwaways came from that. Trickett was far from dynamic, but he took what was given to him. Second-and-4 > second-and-10.
The ability to find the guy camped out in a hole in the zone will be even more vital this year, as there's no White or Alford to bail the offense out on passing downs. Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts are both solid from the slot, and Thompson actually made some big plays for Howard (last two games: seven catches, 149 yards). But with these two on the inside and Shell and Smallwood serving as reliable targets out of the backfield, the efficiency weapons are in place. Howard will have to hit them.
There's still potential on the outside, mind you. Sophomore Shelton Gibson was a four-star recruit, and Crest really could become a fun all-around weapon even if he's not at quarterback. Plus, though he's not highly-touted, White's brother Ka'Raun signed out of JUCO last year. But there are proven weapons on the interior, even if the outside receivers are, like Kevin White himself in 2013, slow to thrive. [Update: Freshman wide receiver Jacquez Adams did not qualify and will not be with the team in 2015.]
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Mark Glowinski||RG||25||2014 2nd All-Big 12|
|Marquis Lucas||RT||6'4, 318||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8121||17|
|Tyler Orlosky||C||6'4, 297||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8799||16|
|Adam Pankey||LG||6'5, 312||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8082||13|
|Kyle Bosch (Michigan)||OL||6'5, 318||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9589||3|
|Tony Matteo||RG||6'4, 296||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389||1|
|Russell Haughton-James||LT||6'5, 292||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8000||0|
|Stone Underwood||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7783||0|
|Sylvester Townes||LT||6'6, 298||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7988||0|
|Grant Lingafelter||RG||6'5, 304||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8169||0|
|Tyler Tezeno||LG||6'4, 317||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8603||0|
|Marcell Lazard||RT||6'6, 310||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||0|
|Yodny Cajuste||LT||6'5, 293||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8506|
|Matt Jones||OL||6'3, 325||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8707|
|Rob Dowdy||OL||6'6, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8640|
5. No moving backwards
There was a pretty large disparity between WVU's Adj. Line Yards ranking (39th) and its Rushing S&P+ ranking (80th). Part of that was because of the lack of explosiveness (which doesn't have a lot to do with the line), and part of it appears to be because the Mountaineer line was good at keeping defenders from moving forward but not particularly good at pushing them backwards. Despite big backs, WVU wasn't very good in short-yardage situations.
But again, the Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line) was strong, and the sack rates were decent (mediocre with Trickett, great with Howard). With Howard, Shell, and Smallwood back, that probably won't change much. But we'll see how WVU deals with a little bit of turnover: Bosch comes in, and three starters return, but both guards -- all-conference performer Mark Glowinski and three-year starter Quinton Spain -- are gone. One would assume they were instrumental in keeping run defenders out of the backfield. [Update: Tackle Russell Haughton-James was dismissed from the team in August after being charged with burglary in April.]
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.4%||27||Succ. Rt. +||121.7||11|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||27.0||122||Off. FP+||95.9||115|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||73||Redzone S&P+||130.3||4|
|Q1 Rk||26||1st Down Rk||25|
|Q2 Rk||56||2nd Down Rk||42|
|Q3 Rk||37||3rd Down Rk||16|
6. Angry and fast
West Virginia's defensive ratings were hosed a bit by how I measure special teams ... or more specifically, how I don't. Because I have not yet found the most effective way to split field position factors out of the ratings and assign appropriate credit to kicking and return games, WVU's defensive ratings were dragged down by WVU's abysmal punt returning. The Mountaineers were 11th in efficiency (Success Rate+), 34th in explosiveness (IsoPPP+), and fourth in red zone S&P+, but they still created awful field position for their offense, in part because of returns.
Still, while a ranking of 41st in Def. S&P+ was artificially low, it was still a drastic improvement over the No. 85 ranking from 2013. WVU went from 62nd in Rushing S&P+ and 102nd in Passing S&P+ to 22nd and 27th, respectively. Tom Bradley helped to shore up the line, and the secondary went from scattershot to great.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Noble Nwachukwu||DE||6'2, 271||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8429||13||27.5||3.8%||8.0||2.0||0||4||0||0|
|Kyle Rose||NT||6'4, 294||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8089||13||27.0||3.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Christian Brown||DE||6'2, 294||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8509||12||17.0||2.3%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Eric Kinsey||DE||6'3, 278||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8410||8||3.5||0.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darrien Howard||NT||6'1, 295||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8884||8||3.0||0.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jon Lewis||DE||6'3, 261||So.||NR||NR||8||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dontae Angus||DT||6'5, 318||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8595|
|Tyree Owens||DE||6'3, 264||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8392|
|Jaleel Fields||DL||6'1, 284||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8312|
|Larry Jefferson||DE||6'5, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568|
|Xavier Pegues||DE||6'3, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8266|
|Adam Shuler II||DE||6'5, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8492|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Nick Kwiatkoski||SAM||6'2, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8073||13||87.0||11.9%||11.5||0.5||0||4||0||0|
|Jared Barber (2013)||MIKE||6'0, 232||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8323||10||57.0||7.5%||5.0||0.0||0||2||1||0|
|Shaq Petteway||WILL||6'0, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488||13||36.5||5.0%||5.0||2.0||0||2||0||0|
|Edward Muldrow||WILL||6'3, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8600||13||25.5||3.5%||4.0||1.5||0||2||0||0|
|Isaiah Bruce||SAM||6'1, 234||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7600||13||13.0||1.8%||3.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Justin Arndt||MIKE||5'11, 210||Jr.||NR||NR||13||10.5||1.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Al-Rasheed Benton||MIKE||6'1, 235||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8707||13||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Xavier Preston||SAM||6'2, 236||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8449||9||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Walters||WILL||6'2, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8227|
|Marvin Gross||WILL||6'2, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8514|
|Hodari Christian||SAM||6'0 ,225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8526|
|David Long||LB||6'0, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8550|
7. Wanted: just a little bit of a pass rush
In 2015, the pass rush will take a hit with the loss of not only ends Shaquille Riddick and Brandon Golson, but also Bradley, who took the UCLA defensive coordinator position. (That Holgorsen didn't try to make him co-coordinator or come up with something else to entice him to stay might tell you how much he likes coordinator Tony Gibson, huh?) Still, with three of five linemen and four of six linebackers (plus 2013 starter Jared Barber, who missed 2014 with an ACL injury and post-surgery infection), it's hard to worry too much about the defensive front.
WVU pulled off an impressive combination last year: tops in short-yardage success and 33rd in stuff rate. The Mountaineers were both stout and quick against the run. End Noble Nwachukwu and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski are back, as are Barber and linebackers Shaq Petteway and Edward Muldrow. The play-making should continue apace.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Karl Joseph||BS||5'11, 197||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8739||13||75.0||10.3%||4.5||0||1||3||3||0|
|KJ Dillon||SPUR||6'1, 203||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8237||13||52.5||7.2%||7.5||0.5||3||7||0||0|
|Daryl Worley||CB||6'2, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8489||11||48.0||6.6%||4.5||0||3||4||0||0|
|Dravon Henry||FS||5'11, 198||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9353||13||40.5||5.5%||1||0||2||2||0||0|
|Terrell Chestnut||CB||5'11, 188||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9133||12||30.0||4.1%||0||0||1||7||1||1|
|Ricky Rumph||CB||5'11, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||13||19.5||2.7%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Jarrod Harper||BS||6'1, 208||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8361||13||11.0||1.5%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Jeremy Tyler||FS||5'11, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8212||13||8.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dayron Wilson||SPUR||5'10, 204||Sr.||NR||NR||13||7.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nana Kyeremeh||CB||5'11, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8382|
|Khairi Sharif||CB||5'8, 180||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Daejuan Funderburk||SPUR||6'1, 192||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8665|
|Rasul Douglas||DB||6'2, 197||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8969|
|Tyrek Cole||CB||5'10, 160||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9287|
|Jordan Adams||CB||6'1, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8640|
|Kevin Williams||S||6'0, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8414|
8. So good in the back
If you're looking for a positive spin regarding WVU losing a couple of its best pass rushers, there's this: WVU's pass rush stunk last year, and the Mountaineers still swarmed the ball regardless. WVU dropped quite a few into coverage, utilized a smart, physical secondary, and placed in the Passing S&P+ top 30 with a No. 114 pass rush.
A little more pressure wouldn't be a bad thing (and in that regard, be on the lookout for two JUCO transfers at end: Larry Jefferson and Xavier Pegues), but the DBs will be fine regardless. Karl Joseph and KJ Dillon are nasty safeties (combined: 12 TFLs, 4 INTs, 10 PDs, 3 FF), and Daryl Worley developed into one of the Big 12's best corners. This unit has senior leadership (Joseph, Dillon and corners Terrell Chestnut and Ricky Rumph), young upside (safety Dravon Henry), and depth. It probably isn't on the Virginia Tech or Florida level, but it's one of the nation's 10 best secondaries. And unless Bradley was the true linchpin of the front six, this defense might be one of the nation's 10 best as well. (Okay, maybe 20 best.)
|Nick O'Toole||6'3, 228||Sr.||57||41.8||2||21||24||78.9%|
|Josh Lambert||5'11, 215||Jr.||45-45||14-15||93.3%||16-24||66.7%|
|Mike Molina||5'8, 175||So.||2-2||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Shelton Gibson||KR||5'11, 188||So.||13||19.2||0|
|Jordan Thompson||PR||5'7, 176||Sr.||12||4.3||0|
|Vernon Davis||PR||5'10, 175||Jr.||6||3.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||60|
|Field Goal Efficiency||7|
|Punt Return Efficiency||125|
|Kick Return Efficiency||11|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||118|
9. Great or terrible
Seventh in field goal efficiency, 96th in punt efficiency. Eleventh in kick return efficiency, 125th in punt return efficiency. WVU was great and terrible in the special teams department last year, so the No. 60 final special teams ratings feels about right.
In Mario Alford, WVU must replace one of the nation's best return men, but if the Mountaineers can improve to simply below average in punting and punt returns, maybe that will make up the difference. Regardless, Josh Lambert's return is a boon. He was asked to kick a patently absurd number of field goals last year -- 24 over 40 yards! Only 27 other teams attempted 24 field goals, total! -- and if Skyler Howard's efficiency numbers don't improve, he'll probably shoulder a heavy load again. But whether he's attempting 20 field goals or 40, he's good.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|5-Dec||at Kansas State||33|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||11.2% (43)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||38 / 47|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-15 / -7.7|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-2.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (6, 8)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||6.0 (1.0)|
10. A brutal road stretch
WVU should expect to improve again defensively, and it might be enough to offset probable offensive regression. But even if the offense is a pleasant surprise, WVU probably won't be a factor in the Big 12 race because of increasingly insane home-road splits with the Big 12 schedules. Just as Oklahoma State and Kansas State get all three top teams at home, Texas and WVU get them all on the road. And the Mountaineers ALSO get KSU in Manhattan, too. That's ridiculous. I know you can't prepare for who's going to be good or bad at any point down the road, but perhaps the Big 12 should look into redrawing some of these rotations.
If WVU is again a top-50 team, however, bowl eligibility probably won't be an issue even if the Mountaineers go only 1-4 on the road. A poor home performance could mean defeat against Georgia Southern, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, or Texas, but odds are good that WVU will be favored in at least six of seven home games.
Between the road schedule and the turnover in the passing game, it's likely that WVU is looking at another six to eight wins this year. Mountaineer fans got tired of winning nine under Bill Stewart, so it will be interesting to see the reaction here. There are almost no seniors on the offense, however, and the ridiculous road slate will turn into a ridiculous home slate in 2016. The goal has to be building for a nice run next year, but that's only if a great defense doesn't implode because of graduation.
Things are looking up, but they're not. They're looking sketchy, but they're not. WVU is an interesting place right now.