Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. Expectations in a foreign land
West Virginia almost got it right last year. The Mountaineers came out on fire, beating opponents solid (Georgia Southern), mediocre (Maryland) and bad (Liberty) by a combined 130-23. They finished with a win over Texas Tech and romps over Texas, Kansas, and Iowa State. They took a 10-point halftime lead at Kansas State in the regular season finale. They beat Arizona State in the Sun Devils' backyard in a bowl.
For two-thirds of the year, WVU played at a breakthrough level, and the year-end S&P+ rating for Dana Holgorsen's squad was high. The Mountaineers finished 24th in S&P+, their highest rating since ranking first in 2007.
(Yeah, WVU ranked first in 2007 and would have had a chance to win a hypothetical Playoff. Sorry to dredge up bad Backyard Brawl memories out of nowhere, WVU fans.)
From 20,000 feet, this was undeniable progress in Holgorsen's fifth year. His team collapsed in 2013, and he was maybe a little bit lucky to be employed by 2014, but he rebounded that year, then rebounded again.
Unfortunately, the season was 13 games long instead of 8.5. After the 3-0 start, WVU got whipped by Oklahoma, then lost safety Karl Joseph, the heart of the defense, to injury.
In his absence, the defense briefly crumbled, allowing 135 points to Oklahoma State, Baylor, and TCU. WVU lost those games by a combined 61 points. WVU went from great to bad in a heartbeat.
The late-season rally took a hit when, clinging to a 23-17 lead in Manhattan, WVU accidentally kicked a ball to KSU's all-world return man Morgan Burns. The Mountaineers then got stuffed on fourth-and-1 near midfield with less than three minutes left and lost, 24-23, despite outgaining the Wildcats by 143 yards.
West Virginia set the bar high and then failed to clear it, first for a month, then for 30 key minutes.
That can be more frustrating for fans and administrators than simply being mediocre would be. Holgorsen and his squad showed what they were clearly capable of, then lost three games by 20-plus points and blew a double-digit lead.
Maybe it isn't surprising, then, that a few days after the loss to Kansas State, it appeared the school was considering firing Holgorsen. That didn't happen, but it revealed he's under pressure.
It also sparked a conversation about expectations. In WVU's 103 top-division seasons, the Mountaineers have, per S&P+ or Est. S&P+, ranked in the 90th percentile or better eight times, in the 80s 13 times, in the 70s 15 times, and in the 60s 16 times. That's the equivalent of ranking in the top 50 or better every other year and in the top 25 once every four years.
But since 1980, WVU has been in the 60th percentile or better 72 percent of the time and in the 80th or better 31 percent. Don Nehlen's run in Morgantown redefined what could be accomplished, and Rich Rodriguez's 33-5 run from 2005-07 raised the bar even higher.
It's an interesting thought. What should WVU sustain in a conference that requires infinite travel, far removed from the recruiting base, with no nearby rivals? The Mountaineers have won either seven or eight games three times in their four years in the Big 12 and were lucky to win even four in the other year. If Holgorsen can put 2013 further in the rearview and establish a rhythm in the eight-win range, is that enough? If it isn't ... shouldn't it be?
While his offense is experienced and explosive, his defense has to replace key pieces. But if the Mountaineers could put another top-30 product on the field while saving some of their good performances for good opponents, that might go a long way toward earning him a seventh season.
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 31 | Final S&P+ Rk: 24|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|5-Dec||at Kansas State||81||23-24||L||77%||96%||-14.9||-7.5|
|2-Jan||vs. Arizona State||50||43-42||W||54%||58%||-9.6||0.0|
|Points Per Game||34.0||35||24.6||44|
2. A brief stumble wrecked everything
Even with the blown lead at KSU, West Virginia played at about a top-20 level for two-thirds of the season. But October was a truly miserable experience.
- First 3 games:
Record: 3-0 | Avg. percentile performance: 95% (~top 6) | Yards per play: WVU 6.8, Opp 4.7 (+2.1)
- Next 4 games:
Record: 0-4 | Avg. percentile performance: 31% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 6.7, WVU 4.7 (-2.0)
- Next 5 games:
Record: 4-1 | Avg. percentile performance: 78% (~top 30) | Yards per play: WVU 6.0, Opp 4.3 (+1.7)
We can look at this in one of two ways.
1. The combination of getting rocked by OU and losing Joseph led to a funk. It's conceivable. When you suddenly lack for confidence and have to play Baylor and TCU on the road, bad things can happen.
2. Did you notice that the four-game slump happened against the four best teams? It's possible WVU's success was totally dependent on having an athleticism advantage and that, when that advantage didn't exist, the Mountaineers had little to offer.
If you're a WVU fan, you're hoping (1) rings truer than (2). But in such a small-sample season, either or both are possible.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.2%||38||Succ. Rt. +||103.2||60|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.1||53||Def. FP+||27.8||31|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.6||54||Redzone S&P+||98.4||79|
|Q1 Rk||67||1st Down Rk||54|
|Q2 Rk||29||2nd Down Rk||56|
|Q3 Rk||38||3rd Down Rk||59|
3. Always be closing
WVU's biggest problems came late, either in drives or games. The Mountaineers ranked 79th in Redzone S&P+, settling too frequently for field goals, and even though Josh Lambert was pretty good (17-for-19 inside of 40 yards, 4-for-9 outside), he was still asked to kick 28 field goals.
My colleague Bud Elliott has a theory that close-game records are by a large portion random, but coaching, quarterback play, and place-kicking can sway games in your favor, just as a good bullpen can allow for a somewhat sustainable close-game record in baseball.
I'm all in on this theory; it makes perfect sense. But even if you have a kicker good enough to lean on, you don't want to have to do it.
Let's put it this way: Last year, 15 FBS teams asked their kickers to attempt at least 28 field goals each. They were 35-39 in one-possession games. There is no negative correlation there, but there isn't a positive one either. WVU was ill-served by stalling out in opposition territory.
To say the least, the Mountaineers were also ill-served by dreadful offense in the final 15 minutes of games. Granted, part of this sample includes blowout wins, but not all of it. In the first 45 minutes, quarterback Skyler Howard produced a completion rate of 58 percent, an interception rate of 3.1 percent, and a passer rating of 150.1. Fourth quarter: 41 percent, 4.9 percent, and 73.5, respectively. Yuck.
WVU's offense produced big plays but wasn't nearly efficient enough to succeed at its tempo. That resulted in quick three-and-outs. And when moving chains was a necessity late in games, or when the field shrunk in scoring opportunities, it resulted in incompletions and throwaways.
Efficiency is the goal in 2016. And without running back Wendell Smallwood or inside receiver Jordan Thompson, it might be difficult to improve.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Skyler Howard||6'0, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8532||221||403||3145||26||14||54.8%||31||7.1%||6.8|
|William Crest Jr.||6'2, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8837||11||25||124||0||1||44.0%||1||3.8%||4.2|
|David Sills||6'4, 204||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8711|
|Chris Chugunov||6'1, 203||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8241|
|Cody Saunders||6'1, 202||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8479|
|Rushel Shell||RB||5'10, 220||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9844||161||708||8||4.4||3.5||39.8%||2||1|
|Skyler Howard||QB||6'0, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8532||126||698||6||5.5||5.5||41.3%||5||3|
|William Crest Jr.||QB||6'2, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8837||19||121||1||6.4||4.6||52.6%||0||0|
|Elijah Wellman||TE||6'1, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7933||14||73||1||5.2||3.0||57.1%||1||0|
|Justin Crawford||RB||6'0, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8793|
|Kennedy McKoy||RB||6'0, 201||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8594|
|Martell Pettaway||RB||5'9, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8721|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Shelton Gibson||WR||5'11, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9341||80||37||887||46.3%||19.7%||11.1||57.5%||41.2%||2.69|
|Daikiel Shorts Jr.||IR||6'1, 204||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8317||66||44||511||66.7%||16.3%||7.7||72.7%||57.6%||1.31|
|Jovon Durante||WR||6'0, 165||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9293||55||25||395||45.5%||13.5%||7.2||74.5%||43.6%||1.65|
|Ka'Raun White||WR||6'1, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7883||26||15||275||57.7%||6.4%||10.6||50.0%||46.2%||1.95|
|David Sills||QB/WR||6'4, 204||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8711||26||7||131||26.9%||6.4%||5.0||61.5%||23.1%||2.14|
|Rushel Shell||RB||5'10, 220||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9844||20||16||101||80.0%||4.9%||5.1||60.0%||40.0%||1.22|
|Gary Jennings||WR||6'2, 207||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8389||13||7||116||53.8%||3.2%||8.9||61.5%||46.2%||1.73|
|Devonte Mathis||IR||6'1, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8540||12||6||47||50.0%||3.0%||3.9||66.7%||33.3%||1.03|
|William Crest Jr.||QB||6'2, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8837||9||4||29||44.4%||2.2%||3.2||55.6%||33.3%||0.76|
|Elijah Wellman||HB||6'1, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7933||5||5||16||100.0%||1.2%||3.2||80.0%||60.0%||0.62|
|Trevon Wesco||HB||6'4, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8255||3||2||8||66.7%||0.7%||2.7||66.7%||66.7%||0.51|
|Ricky Rogers||WR||6'1, 203||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8742||2||2||51||100.0%||0.5%||25.5||100.0%||100.0%||2.26|
|Michael Ferns (Michigan)||HB||6'3, 242||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9284|
|Stone Wolfley||HB||6'4, 247||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8705|
|Steven Smothers||WR||5'9, 154||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9033|
|Marcus Simms||WR||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8585|
4. Wanted: efficiency options
Smallwood gained at least five yards on 51 percent of his carries; that made him one of the steadier feature backs in college football. WVU was only decent in short-yardage situations, but Smallwood was an efficiency back for a team desperately in need of one. Second-stringer Rushel Shell found five yards only 40 percent of the time.
Of the 11 players targeted by at least nine passes in 2015, only two had a success rate better than 46 percent: inside receivers Daikiel Shorts Jr. (58 percent) and Thompson (60 percent). Shorts is back, Thompson is not.
It's impossible to overstate how important efficiency can be for a tempo offense. West Virginia ranked seventh in the country in Adj. Tempo, but 41 drives lasted three or fewer plays before a punt or turnover. On nearly one of every four possessions, WVU's defense got off the field only to have to go right back on. That's a tricky combination.
The offensive line is experienced, which could help Shell and new backups like JUCO transfer Justin Crawford be efficient. But WVU's outside receivers are terribly all or nothing -- Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante: 20.7 yards per catch with only a 46 percent catch rate -- which pressures the inside receivers. It also means quite a few passing downs for Howard.
Holgorsen has stocked up on interesting H-Back candidates (half-fullback, half-tight end), and it could be interesting to see if players like Michigan transfers Michael Ferns, redshirt freshman Stone Wolfley, or rare options Elijah Wellman or Trevon Wesco are featured more frequently. The ability to dump to them for five or six yards could make a huge difference in determining which defense is exhausted late in games.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Tyler Orlosky||C||6'4, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8799||13||29|
|Adam Pankey||LG||6'5, 316||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8082||12||25|
|Kyle Bosch||RG||6'5, 308||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9589||13||15|
|Marcell Lazard||RT||6'6, 310||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||6||6|
|Yodny Cajuste||LT||6'5, 300||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8506||6||6|
|Tony Matteo||LG||6'4, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389||1||1|
|Amanii Brown||C||6'5, 303||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8205||0||1|
|Sylvester Townes||OL||6'6, 298||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7988||0||0|
|Grant Lingafelter||RG||6'6, 306||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8169||0||0|
|Dontae Angus||OL||6'6, 328||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8595||0||0|
|Matt Jones||OL||6'3, 317||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8707|
|Rob Dowdy||LT||6'4, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8640|
|Colton McKivitz||RT||6'7, 295||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8202|
|Craig Smith||OL||6'6, 310||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8156|
|Josh Sills||OL||6'6, 315||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8450|
5. Strength up front
It does appear the line will be solid. The sack rates were higher than you would want last year -- that's another sign of inefficiency -- but some can probably be pinned on Howard. He carried nearly 10 times per game not including sacks, and he was frequently good at it. But the downside to mobility is trusting it too often.
When it came to run blocking, WVU's line passes lots of tests (with help from Smallwood). The Mountaineers ranked eighth in opportunity rate and 27th in stuff rate. They kept a relatively clean backfield, and now they basically return three starters and two half-starters. Marcell Lazard and Yodny Cajuste each started six games as freshmen, and with Cajuste taking over for departed Marquis Lucas at left tackle, this line could end up just as successful.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||34.1%||8||Succ. Rt. +||126.8||4|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.8||65||Off. FP+||31.0||41|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||3.7||16||Redzone S&P+||135.8||3|
|Q1 Rk||6||1st Down Rk||16|
|Q2 Rk||19||2nd Down Rk||35|
|Q3 Rk||42||3rd Down Rk||11|
6. Be! Aggressive! Be! Be! Aggressive!
There's something so appealing about a defense that forces the issue. You can win with a bend-don't-break style -- waiting for a college offense to make a mistake pays off frequently -- but defenses that attack and risk big plays in the name of turnovers and three-and-outs are pleasing to the eye.
Coordinator Tony Gibson's WVU defense, therefore, was all sorts of fun to watch, especially before Joseph's injury. The Mountaineers hit you really hard and took away the thing you wanted to do the most. (In September and November, anyway.)
Adjusting for opponent, WVU prevented big plays reasonably well. The Mountaineers allowed 31 gains of 30-plus yards (90th in FBS), but that was in the Big 12, home of five of the 22 teams with the most 30-yard gains. If you didn't have big-play ability, you had no chance of moving the ball against WVU.
WVU's ability against the run was encouraging. This defense ranked third in Rushing Success Rate+ and returns three of its top four up front. But the line will be thin and under pressure. Outside of the three key returnees, no other returning lineman recorded more than 5.5 tackles last year, and with the top four linebackers and four of the top six defensive backs (plus Joseph) gone, the line could have to cover for some inexperienced moments in the back.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Noble Nwachukwu||DE||6'2, 275||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8429||13||42.0||5.5%||13.0||8.5||0||1||1||0|
|Christian Brown||DE||6'2, 298||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8509||13||28.5||3.7%||4.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darrien Howard||NT||6'1, 297||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8884||13||14.5||1.9%||3.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jaleel Fields||NT||6'1, 290||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8312||4||5.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Larry Jefferson||DE||6'5, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568|
|Xavier Pegues||DE||6'2, 282||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8266|
|Adam Shuler II||DE||6'4, 270||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8492|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Edward Muldrow III||WILL||12||24.5||3.2%||3.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Al-Rasheed Benton||MIKE||6'1, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8707||13||17.5||2.3%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Walters||WILL||6'2, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8227||12||16.5||2.1%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Xavier Preston||SAM||6'2, 236||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8449||13||14.0||1.8%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Justin Arndt||SAM||5'11, 215||Sr.||NR||NR||13||7.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Hodari Christian||MIKE||6'0, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8526||7||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|David Long||WILL||5'11, 225||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8550|
|Brendan Ferns||LB||6'3, 220||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9351|
|Zach Sandwisch||LB||6'2, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8531|
|Adam Hensley||LB||6'3, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8305|
7. Starting over
As solid as the line was, the linebacking corps was a unique source of havoc. Nick Kwiatkoski, Shaq Petteway, and Jared Barber combined for 32.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and 14 passes defensed in 2015; WVU didn't make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but the chaos created by the linebackers resulted in a lot of confused quarterbacks. It also meant a lot of one-yard rushes.
All three starting LBs are gone, as is top backup Edward Muldrow III. The new batch of linebackers could be just as disruptive -- while 17.4 percent of the starters' tackles were TFLs, the average was a nearly identical 16.7 percent for Al-Rasheed Benton, Sean Walters, and Xavier Preston.
Still, these are tough shoes to fill. And if there are any injuries, Gibson might end up fielding a defense that is simply too young and thin to be as efficient as he needs.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dravon Askew-Henry||FS||5'11, 198||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9353||13||53.0||6.9%||1||0||1||4||0||0|
|Jarrod Harper||BS||6'0, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8361||13||32.5||4.2%||3||0||0||4||0||0|
|Rick Rumph III||CB||12||20.5||2.7%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Jeremy Tyler||BS||5'11, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8212||12||19.5||2.5%||0||0||1||2||1||0|
|Antonio Crawford (Miami)||CB||5'10, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8406||13||18.0||2.5%||1||1||0||5||1||0|
|Nana Kyeremeh||CB||5'10, 186||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8382||13||17.5||2.3%||0.5||0||1||1||1||0|
|Marvin Gross Jr.||SPUR||6'3, 208||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8514||13||12.5||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Rasul Douglas||CB||6'2, 208||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8969||11||7.0||0.9%||0||0||1||1||1||0|
|Khairi Sharif||FS||5'8, 181||Sr.||NR||NR||13||5.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shane Commodore||BS||6'0, 205||Jr.||NR||NR||5||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Adams||CB||5'11, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8640|
|Kevin Williams||S||5'11, 196||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8414|
|Deamonte Lindsay||SPUR||6'2, 196||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8192|
|Kyzir White||SPUR||6'3, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9010|
|Elijah Battle||CB||6'0, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8342|
|Toyous Avery||S||5'11, 194||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093|
|Jacquez Adams||CB||5'10, 160||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8429|
|Jake Long||CB||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8189|
|Sean Mahone||CB||5'10, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8450|
8. So many play-makers gone
It's a similar story in the back. WVU won't lack for experience -- of the eight returnees who played last year, five are seniors and three are juniors (plus, Miami transfer Antonio Crawford is a senior as well) -- but the Mountaineers still must replace a ton of known play-makers. Corners Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut combined for nine picks and 23 PBUs, plus four forced fumbles. K.J. Dillon had 6.5 tackles for loss from the SPUR position. Joseph had five interceptions in just four games.
This was a uniquely active secondary, and that's a lot of havoc to replace. Still, it could be worse. Safeties Dravon Askew-Henry and Jarrod Harper are solid, and Crawford and three JUCO transfers (including four-star Kyzir White) join to assure WVU doesn't have to rely on freshmen.
The biggest concern could be that last year's linebackers (Kwiatkoski in particular) were excellent at support in pass defense. Without them, and without as much of a blitzing presence, the DBs will have to cover longer and take fewer risks.
|Mike Molina||5'8, 180||Jr.||7||63.6||3||0||42.9%|
|Josh Lambert||6'0, 203||Jr.||53-54||17-19||89.5%||4-9||44.4%|
|Jovon Durante||KR||6'0, 165||So.||14||22.6||0|
|Shelton Gibson||KR||5'11, 195||Jr.||11||32.8||1|
|Gary Jennings||PR||6'2, 207||So.||13||5.3||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||37|
|Field Goal Efficiency||64|
|Punt Return Success Rate||90|
|Kick Return Success Rate||28|
|Punt Success Rate||28|
|Kickoff Success Rate||64|
Punt returns were an issue, but in most aspects WVU's special teams were perfectly decent -- neither great nor terrible. It's probably more of the same this year, the Mountaineers do lose a strong punter in Nick O'Toole. And opponents would be well-served by making sure kickoffs result in touchbacks instead of returns by Jovon Durante and Shelton Gibson.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|15-Oct||at Texas Tech||43||-0.8||48%|
|29-Oct||at Oklahoma State||23||-6.9||35%|
|26-Nov||at Iowa State||71||4.4||60%|
|Projected wins: 6.9|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||10.3% (46)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||42 / 50|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||9 / 6.7|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+0.9|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||62% (86%, 38%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||8.5 (-0.5)|
10. Questions to answer
WVU relied on a fun but fragile recipe: big plays on offense, efficiency on defense. The former can fail you in its lack of steady chain-moving, and the latter can fail you when the opponent has more big-play guys than you have big-play stoppers.
It will be interesting to see how the recipe changes. Two of WVU's three most efficient offensive weapons are gone, and so many important guys from the linebacking corps and secondary are, too. The defense might have to scale back its intentions, and the offense might still struggle with all-or-nothing drives.
I'm a little shaky about WVU this year. The offense returns a ton of last year's production but might not be any more consistent, and the defense might not be as reliable. That's a bad combination.
A few sustained drives or a few big defensive stops could go a long way. S&P+ gives WVU between a 42 and 57 percent chance -- a virtual tossup -- in five of 12 games and between 35 and 67 in eight. A little improvement could result in nine or 10 wins; a little regression brings 5-7 into view.
It's a big year for Holgorsen's volatile team, and it could go in a lot of directions.