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Why Will Grier skipping the Camping World Bowl can be a win-win

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Grier’s not playing in the Camping World Bowl. It’s smart for him and could work out fine for WVU.

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier won’t play in the Camping World Bowl against Syracuse later this month, as he’s left the program to get a jump on NFL draft prep.

Grier will do what a handful of outgoing juniors and seniors have done the last few years and, instead of playing in a bowl, dive all the way into the draft. WVU’s been cool about it in public, with Dana Holgorsen saying he’s “fully supportive” of Grier’s call. The coach didn’t allude to any disagreement with his star.

Grier’s absence certainly makes WVU more likely to lose to Syracuse. The Mountaineers were 4.5-point favorites the day before the school announced he’d sit and 1.5-point favorites the afternoon after he had, and now they’re 3-point underdogs, according to Odds Shark. But the outcome of the bowl game is barely material (if at all) to WVU’s future success. Grier sitting out, on the other hand, could help WVU in a few ways.

1. The value of a Camping World Bowl win is minimal, but the value of Grier as a first-round pick is significant to WVU’s recruiting.

West Virginia isn’t a recruiting power. When the Eers win, it’s because they’ve found enough talented but unheralded players to get by, then developed them into great players. Grier, a former can’t-miss, high four-star prospect, doesn’t fit that description precisely. He’d started his career at Florida and transferred out after being suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. But when he was deciding on a new school, he picked WVU over Ohio State, despite thinking the Buckeyes pushed harder, because he liked Holgorsen.

Holgorsen has a good rep working with quarterbacks. He’s an air raid disciple who’s coached guys like Graham Harrell, Case Keenum, and Brandon Weeden as they’ve put up humungous college numbers. Keenum’s had some NFL success.

But in Grier, Holgorsen and WVU might have their best shot to churn out a first-round pick who goes on to extended professional success. For one thing, Grier’s talented; Pro Football Focus just pegged him as a late first-rounder in a new mock draft. For another, college and NFL concepts have fused, and Patrick Mahomes’ and Jared Goff’s success should lead to air raid QBs like Grier getting more looks. It’s helpful for Holgorsen, and it’s broadly helpful for West Virginia’s brand as a place QB recruits can go to start long careers.

Grier getting hurt in the Camping World Bowl — or just missing out on a month of draft prep — could make a difference in when he gets picked. We’ll never know when he’d have gone if he’d played in the bowl, but it’s not likely it would’ve been higher. It’s hard to imagine some NFL team that was on the fence about Grier being won over by that game.

The higher Grier goes in the draft, the easier it is for WVU to point to him as a success story on the recruiting trail. If WVU can point to him as a first-round QB while it tries to get other blue-chip QBs to come to Morgantown, that’s infinitely more valuable to the program than whatever result he might provide in the Camping World Bowl. Winning the bowl won’t result in any big financial gain for WVU, either. Just showing up means a payout, but that goes through the Big 12 and then gets distributed around the league.

2. Grier’s been so good (and so healthy) that his backup has barely played. Now he’ll get extended run against a decent defense, in a low-stakes game.

Grier’s backup and the new starter is redshirt sophomore Jack Allison, another former four-star who transferred to Morgantown from a Florida school — Miami, in this case.

Allison’s thrown just 10 college passes, completing six of them. It turns out there aren’t a lot of snaps for the taking when you’re behind Grier on the depth chart and playing for a team that’s played in a lot of close games. (Four of nine Big 12 contests for WVU came down to a one-score margin.) Allison threw a few passes in blowouts, but never more than four in a game. He hasn’t played at all since Nov. 10 against TCU, a 47-10 Eers win.

There’s no better chance than now for WVU to see what it has in Grier’s top backup. Allison will get to show what he has against the country’s No. 60 defense by S&P+. That’s enough to be challenging but not enough to be daunting. And, again, the stakes aren’t much. It won’t change the trajectory of the program if Allison wins or loses.

It’s not that Grier owes WVU anything. He doesn’t. But in a lot of cases like this one, the player’s and program’s interests are aligned.

It would’ve been fun to watch Grier play one more college football game, because he’s been a hell of a college football player. It would be ideal for WVU to win. But neither of those things affects the big picture for either the QB or the school. Grier getting himself primed and ready for the next level does, though, and so does Allison getting reps. Everyone might wind up better off for Grier getting a jump on the pro game.