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Mountaineers need to be 3-0 against non-conference schedule

July 15, 2016
Bob Madison - Chronicle Sports , Shepherdstown Chronicle

Missouri went 1-7 against its SEC brethren last season. The Tigers were 5-7 overall limped into the off-season without a bowl game. The Penguins of Youngstown State were 5-6 overall and lost their only game against a major college team (Pittsburgh). The Cougars of Brigham Young University finished with a 9-4 record after winning over Utah in their bowl game.

Those teams are the first three opponents on WVU's schedule this season. Missouri and Youngstown State are played in Morgantown and Brigham Young will be met at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

And then the grueling Big 12 schedule begins.

West Virginia is not favored to win the Big 12 championship . . . not favored to appear in the national semifinals . . . not favored to finish in the Top 20 when its season closes on the first Saturday in December.

If there is a 3-0 start to the season the Mountaineers would then be in a good position to win at least three more games and attain bowl status for the fifth time in Dana Holgorsen's six years in town.

A one-point win in the Cactus Bowl left the season with an 8-5 overall record and the taste of some accomplishment when all things were considered.

Holgorsen isn't a cemented fixture by any means. But he isn't on his way out on Interstate 79, either.

He wasn't hired by the man who is now his boss. And historically, athletic directors have a way of hiring the people they want coaching and not always the ones they inherited.

It would be much better for Holgorsen if he found the ways to get wins over Missouri, Brigham Young and the Penguins -- teams that are not exactly linked with any Murderer's Row.

In the Big 12 the cream is supposed to rise to the top in Oklahoma, Texas Christian, and scandal-troubled Baylor.

Iowa State has a first-year head coach. Kansas hasn't been blessed since Gale Sayers went off to the Chicago Bears about 125 tornadoes ago. Kansas State beat the Mountaineers by a point last season, leading to questions about why a team with wide receiver playing quarterback could beat them.

This is a West Virginia team that is much the same as it was in 2015. It simply has to find quality depth at most positions to be a viable threat when November and December rear their cold-weather heads.

Is there a quarterback behind Skyler Howard? Are there any reserve offensive linemen with obvious skills? There is a large cast of wide receivers but are any of them play-makers?

Defensively, do the best players need to stay on the field the entire game for the Mountaineers to win? Even with running back Wendell Smallwood now gone, will Holgorsen still run more than he throws?

Few people want to talk about West Virginia's special teams, but they do hold the thin balance between winning and losing on too many football dates.

There are those games that look to be even like Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas that could eventually prove to be the face of the season.

The Mountaineers can't have four offensive starters that faced Missouri and three defensive starters that skated against the Penguins missing from their last three games of the regular season.

Quality depth -- not desperation depth -- usually signals what kind of a season a major college team has.

This will probably be another of those seasons where today's reserves are tomorrow's in-the-balance players.



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