Samantha L. Sayre previews the West Virginia University Mountaineers 2020 Football season, looking at how they will fare in the new look schedule and what are the best bets to place on the team.
Hey everybody, we need to start talking about the West Virginia University Mountaineers 2020 football season and how they are going to react to being one of possibly only three conferences that are going to be challenging for the national championship this year.
What can fans expect from WVU with Coach Neal Brown headed into his second year? I think they can expect to have a big turnaround this year on the field. I think they look a lot better. There is a ton of hope with the Mountaineer fans and there’s a good reason to think that when you watch the end of the 2019 season over. Those WVU players did not quit on Neil Brown when they could have. They actually bought more into his system and started playing his type of way.
In the 2019 season which was Coach Neal Brown’s first season here, WVU finished up 5-7 overall and they were 3-6 in the Big 12 Conference. Personally, I think that Coach Brown is better than this. He has really gotten dealt a bad hand with a lot of Dana Holgorsen’s recruiting that didn’t fit his system and then with the Covid-19 pandemic happening on top of it. He did not get to practice during spring. Coach Brown was looking forward to working out some issues with his quarterbacks and the offensive line. He didn’t get a chance to do that which puts them behind coaches that have more established programs and traditions.
Some of you may be wondering, well then why do you say that Neal Brown is better than this well? In his first year as head coach at Troy, he was 4-8, but then that year and over the spring/summer he got to put in his program and system. He started recruiting players to fit what he believed. Troy University turned it around and went 10-3 in his second year. Coach Brown ended up winning 31 games in the 3 years at Troy and that is what got him the WVU job. It was an impressive turnaround. One that he hopes happens at WVU.
This year I think the Mountaineers could possibly expect a winning season and quite possibly qualify for a bowl game with COVID-19 wrecking havoc on the sports landscape. When you look at the state of West Virginia, it is ranked fourth or fifth in the nation as far as doing good at containing the COVID-19 virus. I look for the team itself not to have too many issues unless they would do something crazy and not follow guidelines.
Last year on offense, it was definitely a rebuilding year. It was not supposed to be as bad as it turned out to be. They really have to focus this year on getting the offense moving down the field and getting a running game going. Last year they struggled and when I say struggled, I mean, STRUGGLED in the rushing game. For the whole entire 2019 season, they had 879 rushing yards while only averaging 2.6 yards per carry and had just seven touchdowns. Yes, that’s for the whole entire season. Teams were stopping them at the line on first and second down and getting them in long third down passing situations. Everyone in the stadium knew what was coming, and it just really set them up badly. Look for the situation to get better this year with an off season of study.
Let’s take a look position group by position group and see what we can expect out of these Mountaineers.
This year, you are looking at two quarterbacks that hopefully have had time to spend with Coach Brown. He was looking forward to a QB competition in the spring for the starting job, but that was pushed back until now. They both played last year. Senior quarterback, Austin Kendall actually started last season. He had 1989 passing yards for 12 TDs before getting a chest injury. Then the Mountaineers had senior quarterback, Jarret Doege takeover. He was a transfer last year from Bowling Green (who threw for over 2600 yards there his sophomore season) and ended up with a 2-1 record to finish out the year against Kansas State and TCU.
As of today, Coach Neal Brown says there is a competition going on and that no one has pulled ahead. However, I eventually think that quarterback Jarret Doege will become the WVU starter and be starting the first game. Will that last? I’m not 100% sure. With injuries and Covid-19 always lurking, probably not. However, I think WVU knows what they have in Austin Kendall and aren’t afraid to use him at all. But Jarret Doege really needs a chance to move this team down the field and see kind of what he can do.
Now let’s look at the backfield which was an issue for West Virginia last season. The question is…is it going to be better this year for the running backs and offensive line?
We want to look first at junior running back, Leddie Brown. Now, I know you are going to look up the stats and say, Sam what are you thinking? He only had 367 yards with one touchdown. You are thinking she saying that they’re going to run the ball? WHAT? Well, they are. I know they lost a running back, Martell Pettaway because he transferred to Middle Tennessee. But WVU is going to hang their hat on Leddie Brown because he has showed a lot of speed, athleticism and the ability to see holes opening up for short periods of time. However, the offensive line did not keep them open long. This year, hopefully, the Mountaineer offensive line will be able to hold open those holes and allow Leddie Brown to scoot through them. He’ll need to get three, four or five yards a carry to get them rolling and keep the WVU passing game out of that third and long situation they stayed in last year.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
We want to obviously talk about wide receivers. The Mountaineers lost wide receiver, George Campbell who averaged 25 yards per catch and had seven touchdowns last year, but I think when you’re actually looking at players to watch. I think this position is where you go to keep your eye on. I believe the number one player on offense to watch for WVU this year is sophomore wide receiver, Sam James. He averaged 9.8 yards per catch on 69 catches. He’s 6 foot and 184 pounds. James is extremely speedy target on the outside going up the field and I look for whoever the quarterback is to target him early and often. WVU also has a fairly decent size wide receiver in 6-2 senior TJ Simmons, who had 35 catches last year, and can go over the middle if needed.
I think that it’s all going to come back to the offensive line. The whole season will come down to how these guys do. Can they hold protection and opening up holes? They have to be able to run the ball against the different defenses that they are going to face in the Big 12 Conference. I think it starts off with the senior that’s going to play guard and center, Chase Behrndt. He has to step up to show he is ready to lead this offensive line. His job is to make sure that everybody is on the same page. However, if you’re looking for a key player this season that you want to watch to see whether or not WVU is actually going to be any good on the offensive line then I think you have to watch sophomore left tackle, Junior Uzebu. He was the backup left tackle last season. Can he pass block on the blind side for the QB? Can he shove the pass rusher out on the edge to open up holes? So, I think he is going to be the offensive line player to watch to determine whether or not WVU has gotten any better at all on the line.
Now let’s flip to the other side of the ball. Let’s talk about defense. I was impressed with WVU’s defense at the last part of last season. I felt like they really figured out what Coach Neal Brown wanted from them in the second half of the season. They didn’t allow more than 20 points a game in four of their last five games. The pass rush was among the best in the Big 12 Conference. Now their run defense was just ok. However, they have a positive going into this season because they have five of their top seven tacklers back. One of the key points that Coach Brown is stressing this year is the fact that they need to force more turnovers and pressure teams. A big loss already suffered by WVU is the fact that Kerry Martin made the decision to opt out of playing this season due to the Covid-19 virus.
If we are going to talk about the defensive line then we have to start with Dante and Darius Sills. Dante, who I believe is the better player, is a junior defensive tackle that had 7 sacks last season. Then his senior brother, Darius, who is also a defensive tackle and also had 7 sacks last season are back. It will all start with them. Can they put pressure on the offensive line and their QB?
I think here that we need to really look at junior linebacker Josh Chandler. He was the second leading tackler last year even though he missed some time with a knee injury. He is expected to be 100% this year. So, I think that the Mountaineers will try to lean on him a little bit in the linebacking core.
Cornerbacks and Safeties:
I think where WVU can make some plays and get after some people is actually with their cornerbacks and their safeties. I know they are a young group, but I think this system is all they have known. They are going to be willing to take chances to make the plays WVU is going to need to stay in the big games. The leader of this group has to be senior safety Sean Mahome who was the leading tackler last season with 80 tackles. Then his partner on the other side is going to be sophomore safety, Tykee Smith. It is all youngsters at cornerback. You are going to have a sophomore cornerback Nicktroy Fortune and a redshirt freshman, Tae Mayo on the outside trying to lock down wide receivers. If they can be successful then I think that WVU defense is going to be a whole lot better than what it was last year. You also have to remember that WVU has the Arizona transfer, Scottie Young coming in. He had 66 tackles for Arizona and he should be able to help this defense.
Dealing with Covid-19 and Injuries:
We need to talk a little bit about the COVID-19 situation and how I think WVU will deal with that. We know that at some point the Mountaineers are going to have to deal with Covid-19 hitting their team. I can’t see any team in college football not having someone get COVID-19 and have to quarantine for seven to 14 days and possibly having to miss a game or two. How a team deals with this and how their backups deal with it could make all the difference is a certain big game. As you read above, I think in this WVU has a big advantage. Being in a state that right now has COVID-19 under control somewhat is a lot better than where other teams in the Big 12 have sat. Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have already had numerous players out with Covid-19. I think what fans need to worry about is the fact…Is WVU going to be able to stay isolated as they travel to play other teams in other states where maybe COVID-19 is not controlled as much as it is in West Virginia?
Big Games to Look For:
Of course, the big games that are always circled on WVU’s calendar has to be the Oklahoma game and the Texas game. Both have always given the Mountaineers issues. The Big 12 Conference came out with their brand-new schedule and at least WVU gets both these teams later in the season. Hopefully they can get some wins under their belt and get some confidence going. I think an advantage that WVU has is that they open up on September 12th with Eastern Kentucky and then they get a 2-week break. During this they can look at and fix any issues. Of course, soon after they head for their first big test of the season at Oklahoma State on September 26th.
In the weeks to come, we are going to talk about how we may be looking at betting these games. Just a heads up, before conferences started canceling their seasons WVU was listed as a 12.5-point underdog to Oklahoma State. I think WVU can go in and shock them. Maybe not win, but at least cover the spread on this game. Right now, no sports books have any certain games up on to bet at this time due to conferences canceling. Look for them to be put back on the board in the next couple weeks.
BETS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
On FanDuel, BetMGM and DraftKings, there are no game bets up yet for you to bet on. When they come out then we will discuss each and how we are betting. Be looking for a bet to show up of Over/Under 5.5 or 6 games for WVU to win this season. I’m definitely betting on this one if I see a 5.5 game or lower listed on an app. I want to jump on the over VERY quickly before it goes up.
I don’t see WVU losing to Eastern Kentucky or Kansas. I think they can win depending on injuries and Covid-19 at Texas Tech, Kansas State at home and TCU at home. That’s five games there. Then we would need to look at an upset of Oklahoma State, Baylor (which they almost did last year) or at Iowa State which they were listed as the underdogs before the bets were taken off the board. I think WVU will go 6-4 this year, but may do better covering the spread. Of course, if they win six then they would go to a bowl game if they have them. If luck rolls their way then you may see a 7-3 season. Honestly, I don’t think so, but it could happen.
West Virginia to win Big 12 Championship (+5000) at FanDuel
On FanDuel right now, you can get WVU at +5000 odds and on DraftKings right now, you can get WVU at +2500. Obviously, FanDuel is the better value. I can’t encourage you to put money on it though. It’s not a good value for your money. If you want to throw a LITTLE money at it and hope that it turns into a big payoff then I’m not stopping you. I just can’t justify it right now. Too many teams would have to have injuries, opt outs or Covid-19 quarantines while WVU didn’t have any. I think this season may become a crapshoot quickly with Covid playing a factor, but not a big enough factor for WVU to win the Big 12 Conference no matter how much I like Coach Neal Brown.
West Virginia to win National Championship
Right now, on BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel there are no National Championship odds, but before they took all bets off the boards WVU was not listed on it. I think they will be since not many teams are still playing this season. You have no clue how it could go with injuries, the possible flu coming and Covid, but I’m not even going to tell you to throw a little money on this one. I think that it is a total waste of money that can be place on maybe their bowl game or a live betting option in the future.
I’m totally looking forward to this season and keeping up with everything that goes on from week to week. Going to be FUN! Can’t wait. Just glad we have some sports to look forward to.