Morgantown, WV (KDKA)- Things look a lot different in Morgantown this fall.
Long-time Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen packed his bags for Houston over the winter. Starting quarterback Will Grier is in Carolina hoping to make the roster with the Panthers. His top receiver, David Sills V is hoping for the same in Buffalo with the Bills. And the other three top receivers from last year’s team are all gone.
That leaves new head coach Neal Brown with a blank canvas upon which to paint his version of the Mountaineers. But it could make for a rough first year under the new coach, as he gets familiarized with the roster and the talent available.
“It is definitely a lot more of a rebuild than others, especially on the offensive side of the football. Will Grier is gone, who I thought was a phenomenal quarterback. You lose your four top receivers, especially a guy like David Sills, who was your top playmaker and game-changer,” said CBS Sports college football analyst Aaron Murray. “That offense was really built off of those two guys, and I really think they only have two or three guys back on the offensive side of the football. You are kind of rebuilding your identity with a new head coach, new quarterback (Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall). It is still first year, new quarterback, new coach. They are definitely going to take a step back this year, they are a six-win team.”
Kendall, who was named the starter for the team last week, transferred in to the school in January as a graduate student following two years of backing up Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. The redshirt junior was a four-star prospect in his own right coming out of Cuthbertson High School in North Carolina back in 2016, but he has seen limited game action at the college level.
Taking over for Grier, a prolific passer who is third all-time in passing yards in school history after just two seasons, is no easy task. Murray knows what it’s like to take over for a school legend as he picked up where Matthew Stafford left off at Georgia. As Kendall heads into his first year as a starter, Murray has some advice for him.
“Any new quarterback, you have to find your own way. But especially a guy that transferred in and wasn’t originally committed to West Virginia, the big thing is to learn your teammates. Learn who they are on and off the field,” said Murray. “The more respect you can earn from your offensive line, running backs and receivers, the more they are going to want to play hard for you and run a little harder and dive after footballs. All that stuff can help your transition to becoming a starting quarterback.”
Kendall will have a solid group of backs behind him to lean on, as seniors Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway both return. The run game may be the focal point of the offense, at least early, as Kendall gets more rhythm with this new group of receivers. According to the WVU student newspaper, the top four receivers entering Week 1 against FCS-power James Madison are sophomore Sean Ryan, junior Tevin Bush, redshirt freshman Sam James and redshirt junior T.J. Simmons.
On defense, new coordinator Vic Koenning has a trio of secondary members back with safety Jovanni Stewart and corners Josh Norwood and Keith Washington Jr. But, three of the top four linemen from last year’s front are gone.
Overall, the team has a lot of new faces entering the starting lineup, and it makes it difficult to know what exactly to expect from the season. The schedule isn’t exactly friendly either. James Madison is no slouch in the opening week. Then the team makes a trip to Missouri and follows it up with a home game against North Carolina State. The good news is both #10 Texas and #21 Iowa State have to visit Morgantown, so the Mountaineers will get to play those big conference matchups in front of the home fans. Murray believes that the Week 2 matchup against the Tigers will be a good barometer for the team this season.
“Their second game of the year is against Missouri, and I think Missouri is a very good team. Texas is going to be good, Oklahoma is going to be good, Baylor could surprise this year and they finish at TCU. It’s a tough schedule,” said Murray. “I don’t think anyone expects them to win the Big 12 by any means, but I definitely don’t see them as an eight-win team either. They are rebuilding. You have to figure out who you are and what you can do in year one. It’s going to be a good test in Week 2 against Missouri. They will be challenged on both sides of the football.”
The Mountaineers open their 2019 season when the James Madison Dukes visit Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday, August 31st at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Here is the complete schedule:
8/31 vs. James Madison, 2:00 p.m. ET
9/7 @ Missouri, 12:00 p.m. ET
9/14 vs. N.C. State, 12:00 p.m. ET
9/21 @ Kansas, TBD
10/5 vs. #10 Texas, TBD
10/12 vs. #21 Iowa State, TBD
10/19 @ #4 Oklahoma, TBD
10/31 (Thursday) @ Baylor, 8:00 p.m. ET
11/9 vs. Texas Tech, TBD
11/16 @ Kansas State, TBD
11/23 vs. Oklahoma State, TBD
11/29 @ TCU, 3:30 p.m. ET