Within the Student Union website and even college football as a whole, West Virginia has almost been swept under the rug. Yes, WVU Twitter is in full force, believing they have the talent to compete for the national championship. You can even find Twitter handles supporting the Will Grier for Heisman debate. Call me crazy, but I’ve been high on the Mountaineers from the start. I had them ranked #9 in my preseason poll, and right now they sit at #6 in my Top 25, just a hair below Big 12 rival Oklahoma. The AP hasn’t been quite as nice to West Virginia, as they currently sit at #9 after jumping from the 12 spot last week. Not only do I think West Virginia has the talent to compete in the Big 12, I think they are the best team in the conference. So, let’s break it down.
Any good college football team, or really any good football team in general, starts with a star quarterback. Nick Saban has somehow gotten around this philosophy but, let’s be real, no other team is built like Alabama. Will Grier is everything and more you could ask for if you’re West Virginia. In the Big 12 especially, Grier is the perfect gunslinger. The senior from Charlotte has put up video game numbers this year. He has completed 72.1% of his passes, which would be a career high. Grier would also be setting a personal best with 10.93 yards per completion. To get to the video game numbers, Grier has thrown for 1,487 yards, 17 touchdowns and just 3 picks in four games. There really isn’t an area for criticism, and I believe the Grier for Heisman pages have more than enough statistical data to back them up. Basically, I have a man-crush on Will Grier. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.
But what’s a star quarterback without a great receiver? Well, West Virginia has three of those. Marcus Simms, Gary Jennings Jr, and David Sills have caught 24, 23 and 22 passes, respectively. They’ve combined for 1,038 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns. Wowza. All three of them got at least seven targets in last week’s win on the road at Texas Tech. It’s one thing for a team to gameplan for one big-time receiver, but Will Grier has three to throw to, and he’s not afraid to sling it to any one of them. In a Big 12 where shootouts are common, West Virginia has the perfect offense to cope.
The Mountaineers aren’t going to run the ball down your throat, but they have been efficient when they do hand it off. Kennedy McKoy, Leddie Brown, and Martell Pettaway have all gone for more than 4.5 yards per carry and have gone for 615 yards and 4 touchdowns combined. Sticking with the West Virginia theme of three, that’s another three running backs you have to prepare for.
The phrase “defense wins championships” is probably what comes to mind when it comes to West Virginia and winning the Big 12. The Mountaineers have quietly put together a good defensive season thus far. The only real hiccup they had was last weekend against Texas Tech, where they allowed 34 points, but this isn’t a big deal when you take into account the 35-10 halftime lead West Virginia held. The conservative “bend but don’t break” philosophy was alive and well in the second half, leading to the close 42-34 final. When it was needed most, the West Virginia defense got the stop it needed to secure the win. The biggest question mark for the Mountaineers on defense has been the pass rush, which has only totaled 7 sacks this season. Sitting back and allowing Big 12 quarterbacks to throw in a clean pocket is never a great idea. However, the secondary is in good hands with CB Keith Washington and S Kenny Robinson Jr. Robinson was able to ball hawk and come up with two interceptions last weekend. If guys other than DL Kenny Bigelow Jr can step up as the season goes on (four QB pressures last weekend), the defense should be fine. They have the pass rushing abilities and a solid rush defense. It just has to translate to hitting the quarterback.
Overall, I love every aspect of this West Virginia team. The only thing between them and a trip to the college football playoff is a tough schedule. The Mountaineers end with Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. The good news? They get TCU and Oklahoma at home. The bad news? There’s a good chance WVU would have to face Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks, both the last weekend of the season and in a potential Big 12 Championship Game matchup. Kyler Murray and the Sooners are no easy task, but I believe West Virginia boasts the best team in this conference. Cast your Will Grier for Heisman votes, and jump on the Mountaineer train right now. Next stop? The Final Four.