The West Virginia football outlook for 2016 season. The Mountaineers have been decent under Dana Holgorsen, but this year they might need to finally make a run for something bigger.
The Dana Holgorsen era is sort of working.
He started out with a bang taking the Mountaineers to a 10-3 record and the epic 70-33 blowout over Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl, but the bar was set a bit too high for reality.
West Virginia was really, really close to playing for the national title under Rich Rodriguez, and went 9-4 three years in a row under Bill Stewart – this isn’t just another also-ran college football program. But it’s been just tantalizing enough under Holgorsen to think there might be more, and there’s been a little bit of understanding that the move to the Big 12 has made a difference, but 26-25 in four years since changing conferences just isn’t good enough.
It’s been hard to put him on a true hot seat, mainly because he’s producing winners and it’s hard to argue too much with most of the losses. But every year there’s been a key gaffe that’s kept the record from looking a lot better – that’s not the real point, though. Losing to Kansas State last year and Texas two seasons ago didn’t keep the Mountaineers from winning the Big 12 title. The real problem? Going 0-for-4 against Oklahoma since joining the Big 12, and not doing enough against the other top teams on a regular basis.
At some point, West Virginia has to be in the mix for a Big 12 title, and so far under Holgorsen it hasn’t been in the top three.
The offense has worked. There was the stellar first season with Geno Smith bombing away, and last year the ground game averaged 228 yards per game, but this was supposed to be an unstoppable attack, and it hasn’t been up to snuff compared to Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma. The defenses have been okay, and last year’s was terrific at times, but again, the Big 12 titles aren’t there. More than that, it doesn’t seem like the team is close to turning that corner and blowing up into a true power player.
After five years, he’s had his chances to put together the teams like to do what he wants, so where’s the bar going to be set? Can he still be around if he comes up with a seven-win season? Does he need eight wins? If it’s a downer of a losing campaign, West Virginia will be heading in a new direction next year at this time, but Holgorsen might just have a good enough team in place for that to not be a problem.
The offense should be more explosive with a veteran and dangerous receiving corps helping out experienced quarterback Skyler Howard. The running game that was so good last year should keep on rolling with Rushel Shell and new guy Kennedy McKoy working behind a line that should be among the best in the Big 12.
While the secondary is a concern with several key losses, the front six will be fine with a trio of good-enough linebackers around an okay front three. But it’ll be the offense that’ll have to dominate if the Mountaineers are going to get in the Big 12 championship hunt and stay there.
Can they catch lightning in a bottle and have that one big breakthrough season? Probably not, but at the very least they should finish in the league’s upper half.
But being okay is just … okay. At the moment, West Virginia football looks to be just okay.