Hey guess what? Sports betting is now legal in West Virginia. And since I’m Crossing Broad’s resident WVU alumnus, I’m the guy writing up the preview for your 2019 Mountaineer football team. All odds are built off the recently-launched in West Virginia DraftKings Sportsbook.
Honestly, there are about ten bazillion question marks going into this season, namely because there’s a new head ball coach and a new quarterback in town. Dana Holgorsen left for Houston and Will Grier is now a Carolina Panther, so in steps Troy University’s Neal Brown to work his first Power Five job sans a returning starter at the most important position on the field.
West Virginia odds at DraftKings Sportsbook
West Virginia +4,000 to win Big 12
WVU comes in well behind Oklahoma -167, Texas +500, Iowa State +800 to win the Big 12 at DraftKings.
West Virginia +50000 to win it all
- -106 over 5
- -118 under 5
Austin Kendall +6,600 to win Heisman
The under on the over-under feels good to me. It feels like a 4-8 or 5-7 season. We have a really hard strength of schedule, gotta play JMU at home (only -6), at Missouri, vs. NC State, at Oklahoma.
What do we know about Brown
He went 35-16 in four seasons at Troy, starting out 4-8 in 2015 before going on to compile records of 10-3, 11-2, and 10-3 en route to bowl wins over Ohio, North Texas, and Buffalo.
His Trojans were competitive with “BCS” schools during that span, losing by six at Clemson in 2016 and by 11 at Boise State the following year. A few weeks later, that same year, his squad knocked off LSU in Baton Rouge, breaking the Tigers’ streak of 49-straight home victories against non-league opponents. Troy then dispatched Nebraska in Lincoln last season, forcing three turnovers and returning a punt for a touchdown in a shock 24-19 win.
The 38-year-old Brown does have Big 12 experience, having served as Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville from 2010 to 2012, before leaving for his home state of Kentucky to work the same role alongside Mark Stoops. He played college ball in Lexington under head coach Hal Mumme and an assistant named Mike Leach, those early days of the “Air Raid” philosophy providing the foundation on which his own offense was built.
Brown’s concepts should fit perfectly in a high-powered, contemporary Big 12, and they aren’t dissimilar from what Dana Holgorsen valued during his eight seasons in Morgantown. Look for your typical one-back, 11-personnel sets, with three wide receivers on the field.
Ian Boyd does a nice job taking a closer look at Brown’s offense, over at Football Study Hall:
The Troy offense probably took as many deep shots as West Virginia and regularly tried to get in on the spread-iso game, mixing in RPOs, Bob Stitt sweeps, play-action, sucker screens, and switch routes to try and get WRs open on the perimeter or down the field. The only difference was that they didn’t hit theirs with anything close to the precision of Will Grier.
The main difference between West Virginia and Troy on offense over the last few years has been the superior skill level of the Mountaineer passing game and then the superior physicality and run game versatility of the Troy attack. Dana Holgorsen certainly ran inside zone and used some bigger ancillary blockers but his teams preferred to put their focus on the passing game when they had the means to do so. They even regularly deployed one-man brute squad Trevon Wesco last year as a POP pass target rather than just bashing defenders out of the way with him.
Defensively, Troy has been more than solid, actually finishing as a top-50 advanced analytics squad for three straight seasons. Coordinator Vic Koenning has years of Power Five DC experience, and he followed Brown to Morgantown, replacing Tony Gibson in the process, and hopefully depositing the 3-3-5 directly into the trash can where it belongs.
Actually, that might be harsh. Gibby did a lot of good things during his time here, but I’m not sure I can recover from giving up 59 points at home to Oklahoma with the Big 12 title game on the line. I felt like my head was going to explode if I saw another drop-eight with a three-man rush, though there were times when his defenses were wonderfully aggressive, fast, and confusing to play against.
For what it’s worth, Koenning said recently that he’s not married to one specific defensive scheme:
“We’re part 3-4, part 4-2-4, there’s some 4-3 stuff we do,” he said of the varied approach that has served him well at various stops, including at Troy over the past four seasons. “If our guys do better (at one) we’ll do that. We are going to see what our guys can do, and it will be an on-going process. It’s never going to stop changing. There’s a lot of different ways to skin a cat, as many different ways as there are ants in Africa.”
Either way, Big 12 defense is less about “stopping” an opponent and more about “containing” an opponent, as you well know. You’re gonna spend about five seconds in a 3-4 or 4-3 base and eventually wind up playing some version of nickel, which is what most NFL defenses do anyway. America’s Team, the Philadelphia Eagles, spend something like 70% of the game playing 4-2-5 nickel with Nigel Bradham and one other linebacker on the field.
Right, so anyway, our Heisman candidate quarterback is gone, which blows. In steps Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall, who spent two seasons backing up Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray in Norman, two guys who went #1 overall in the NFL draft. He doesn’t have a ton of true on-field experience, but he did play well in the six appearances he made for the Sooners, most of which were mop-up scenarios. Ironically enough, Kendall transferred when Oklahoma picked up Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, so his lack of opportunity over the years can’t necessarily be attributed to his shortcomings. There are very few quarterbacks out there who are going to win playing time battles against Mayfield, Murray, and Hurts. Now Kendall finally gets his chance to be the guy.
There are other significant losses across the board. Leading receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings are gone. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year David Long is now a Tennessee Titan. Left tackle Yodny Cajuste is a New England Patriot (barf). Center Matt Jones transferred. The one positive here is that the running back position looks pretty damn solid with the return of Kennedy McCoy, Martell Pettaway and Leddie Brown.
West Virginia schedule
It means that we’re a total crap shoot in 2019. We could finish anywhere from 4-8 to 9-3, with a relatively difficult schedule that looks like this:
JMU is no pushover. They’ve been one of the best FCS teams of recent seasons. Mizzou and NC State went 8-5 and 9-4 last year, respectively. You’ve got road games in Norman, Fort Worth, and Manhattan as well.
That wild card status might make it hard to wager on DubVee, but you’ll find some good value across the board, since no one really knows what we’re gonna do this season. If we have a high ceiling and low floor, or a rather unknown outlook, you should be able to pick out some quality futures within the margins.
Last word goes to 6’6″ 240, my guy: