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West Virginia Football: 12 Reasons They Will Play for a Championship This Season

Daniel KablackCorrespondent IIINovember 4, 2016

West Virginia Football: 12 Reasons They Will Play for a Championship This Season

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    West Virginia Junior QB Geno Smith is a potential Heisman Candidate this seasonAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    West Virginia University has made a lot of moves this offseason.

    They've cut ties with their former head coach while hiring a new one who has implemented an entirely new offensive system in Morgantown.

    It has been a very successful offensive system.

    Known for his spread passing attack and ability to create huge offensive numbers, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has been winning at every stop in his career.

    There is no reason to think he is going to stop now.

    The Mountaineers already have had a solid defense under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, ranking third in the nation in points scored against his unit last season.

    This year, that defense looks in shape and ready to take on a mediocre schedule.

    With games against mostly Big East opponents, there is a good chance Holgorsen's offense could simply out-score everyone they take the field against and finish the year undefeated.

    And here is how...

Sunday, Sept. 4: Marshall Thundering Herd

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    Geno Smith is poised to become a Heisman Candidate this yearMike Ehrmann/Getty Images


    Last year it took overtime to decide this matchup.

    Admittedly, the Mountaineers didn't look great during most of the game against Marshall and many Mountaineer fans may had lost hope, thinking this would be the first time ever that West Virginia football would lose to Marshall in their 100-year history playing each other.

    Luckily, they were wrong.

    Now a junior, starting quarterback Geno Smith had found himself looking at a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter last season against the Thundering Herd.

    Smith finished the game with 316 yards, including amassing 168 yards and a completion percentage of 77 percent through the fourth quarter and through overtime.

    It was his coming out game and gave the country a chance to check out this quarterback from Miramar, Florida.

    As for this season, an exciting and revamped offensive scheme will probably be too much for former West Virginia recruiting whiz and Marshall head coach Doc Holliday.

    Simply put, the Mountaineers are just too talented.

    Marshall returns some starters but many of their players are young and inexperienced and simply will be outmatched by the level of talent the Mountaineers recruited.

    Despite last year's outcome, I expect West Virginia to take a hold in this game under the guidance of new head coach Dana Holgorsen.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 41, Marshall 13

Saturday, Sept. 10: Norfolk State Spartans

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    The last time West Virginia faced a Division I opponent, they blanked them 31-0.

    That was last season against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, a team who did not even have a football practice field just a few years ago.

    Norfolk State has a bit more experience than the Chanticleers, but I believe this won't be much of a hassle for the Mountaineers.

    Look for West Virginia's reserves to get into this game after the third quarter to get some additional playing time, including West Virginia freshman backup quarterback Paul Millard, who threw for nearly 50 touchdowns in his senior season in high school last year.

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 45, Norfolk State 6

Saturday, Sept. 17: Maryland Terrapins

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    One of the first tests of this season's Mountaineers team will be against the Maryland Terrapins and their new head coach, Randy Edsall.

    Edsall was hired last year from UConn the day after losing in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma. He had neglected to inform his players of the move beforehand, resulting in many upset Huskies, some of which left the team.

    He had guided the Connecticut football program from nothing into a Big East champion over his 12 years with the school, thus leading to his hiring at Maryland to help revive the team.

    He finished at UConn with a 74-70 record overall since 1999.

    Though Maryland football will eventually benefit from the hiring of Edsall, they haven't brought in enough talent to do much to prove they won't end up in the same place they did last season.

    Last year, the Mountaineers defeated Maryland 31-17 in a game in Morgantown where Geno Smith passed for almost 300 yards and four touchdowns.

    This year, the Mountaineers will have similar success with a much more experienced quarterback and a real offensive game plan.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 27, Maryland 17

Saturday, Sept. 24: LSU Tigers

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    Oh, how Mountaineer fans have waited for this one.

    Last season, West Virginia went into Louisiana and almost came out with a win against a then No. 15 LSU offense that was lacking firepower. It was only the play of Patrick Peterson who kept the Mountaineers from coming away with a victory after he returned a punt for a touchdown.

    But Peterson no longer plays for LSU, and the Mountaineers are pumped up to send the Tigers back home with a loss.

    With a more experienced playmaker calling the shots behind center, Geno Smith will make sure they don't lose this one.

    An ability to roll out of the pocket and find an open teammate down field will help drastically improve the Mountaineers' chances this season.

    A more experienced, speedy receiving core also won't hurt their cause.

    With a roaring West Virginia crowd—who on many days make Mountaineer Field into the largest city in the state—the Mountaineers will feel right at home with an extra loud teammate to cheer them on.

    This will be the biggest game for the Mountaineers of the season, and the most likely to get them a loss. But once they've come away from it, they will jump up into the national spotlight after defeating a top-10 team.

    LSU fans shouldn't count on their defense to bail them out this year, and a Jeff Casteel-run defense will prevent them from putting up many points.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 24, LSU 16

Saturday, Oct. 1: Bowling Green Falcons

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    You would be kidding yourself if you thought Bowling Green would upset West Virginia when you saw this year's college football schedules come out.

    The MAC football school isn't exactly a powerhouse in college football, and fans of the team don't seem so high on expectations for this year after citing a four-win season as an improvement.

    By this point in the year, the Mountaineers should be ranked as one of the top 15 teams in the country, if not top 10.

    The WVU coaching staff and fans should get a chance to view their second-string team in this game and add another digit to the win column.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 44, Bowling Green 6

Saturday, Oct. 8: Connecticut Huskies

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    Last year, the Connecticut Huskies won the Big East crown...barely.

    This year they won't be so lucky.

    Despite losing to this team last season, the Mountaineers aren't going to have the same issues they faced before.

    Essentially, they had fumbled that game away.

    WVU had put the ball on the ground a total of seven times in one game, including once in overtime, which ultimately lead to their third loss of the season.

    That was a team without a mission, without a real voice at head coach and without a plan.

    This season is completely different.

    Coming into this year, Connecticut has lost its head coach, the aforementioned Randy Edsall, to Maryland.

    They've also lost a great running back in Jordan Todman to the San Diego Chargers in the NFL draft.

    West Virginia will also be looking for a little bit of payback after losing the chance at a Big East crown last season to UConn.

    Given the amount of talent the Mountaineers have and the disarray the Huskies organization is in after having to change their coaching staff, it shouldn't be too hard to rack up enough points to come out of this one with a victory.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 34, Connecticut 16

Friday, Oct. 21: Syracuse Orange

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    It was this game last season that ultimately made me lose faith in former West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart.

    Though he had the team with more talent on the field, he failed to coach dynamically enough to continue scoring and failed to score during the entire second half of the game.

    After being destroyed by Pittsburgh the week before 45-14, Syracuse was looking to show they could play some defense.

    They did exactly that.

    The Orange intercepted WVU quarterback Geno Smith three times in the first half and sacked him five times throughout the game.

    A lack of discipline and experience by Smith under a heavy Syracuse blitz was partly to blame as he remarked in a postgame press conference.

    "I have to be more disciplined in my reads."

    Given that senior Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is starting again with a year of experience under his belt, I will give the Orange a little more credit this year.

    But by this time I feel the Mountaineers will be a well-oiled, offensive machine, scoring on fellow Big East opponents at will. They will come away with another well deserved win.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 44, Syracuse 31

Saturday, Oct. 29: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    A season ago, the Mountaineers exploded on the Scarlet Knights, putting up 35 points on a porous secondary at home in Morgantown.

    Geno Smith recorded 352 yards and a touchdown, while WVU receiver Tavon Austin tallied up 121 receiving yards and a score.

    The big West Virginia running back Ryan Clarke also ran in three scores from within the 3-yard line to give the Mountaineers a 35-14 win.

    Although Rutgers has had some more time to improve through the offseason, I don't believe they will be one of the top contenders in the Big East this year; in fact, they've been picked to finish last in the Big East and they will prove why during this game.

    Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu should be one bright spot for the Scarlet Knights this year as he's slated to start at wide receiver, a duty he shared last year along with playing quarterback/running back in the wildcat formation.

    Expect Dana Holgorsen to give some of his starters a well-deserved rest after halftime as the Mountaineers should cruise to another victory, putting them at an undefeated 8-0.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 44, Rutgers 13

Saturday, Nov. 5: Louisville Cardinals

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    Last season, Louisville relied on their defense to keep them in enough games to reach a .500 record and get them to the deliciously named, "Beef O'Brady's Bowl."

    This year they will have to deal with losing 11 starters and many key reserves to go along with playing against some talented opponents.

    West Virginia will be one of them.

    Though riding high off an 8-0 record, the Mountaineers will not be taking the Cardinals too lightly.

    Second-year Louisville head coach Charlie Strong will focus his efforts on improving his defense, a defense that held the Mountaineers to just 17 points in last season's 17-10 Mountaineers' win.

    If Dana Holgorsen does as he's done at every other stop during his career, the Mountaineers will still score on an improved Louisville defense, who will be hurting after losing some of their starters.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 31, Louisville 13

Saturday, Nov. 12: Cincinnati Bearcats

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    After a 4-8 season last year under new head coach Butch Jones, the Cincinnati Bearcats can only improve this year.

    Unfortunately for UC fans, it won't be against West Virginia.

    Though they return running back Isaiah Pead and versatile quarterback Zach Collaros, they probably won't have the firepower to outplay a great Jeff Casteel-run defense.

    It was the Mountaineers' defense that had stepped up last year, limiting the Bearcats to just 10 points during the entire game and holding Collaros to no touchdowns.

    The Mountaineers' offense put up an impressive 37 points on the Bearcats, with Geno Smith throwing four in just the first half to give WVU a 30-3 lead at halftime.

    With a full year to get used to a new offensive system, Cincinnati should be a bit more improved this season but won't move forward during this game with a defense that is lacking talent and experience.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 55, Cincinnati 20

Friday, Nov. 25: Pittsburgh Panthers

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    At this point, the Mountaineers should be ranked within the top 5 nationally.

    Though their Big East schedule will probably prevent them from making it much higher, they very well could be in the conversation for a chance at the BCS National Championship.

    Given that Pittsburgh has picked up new head coach Todd Graham, who guided Tulsa for four years, they likely won't see drastic improvement on offense.

    Pitt lost longtime receiver Jonathan Baldwin to the NFL draft as well as standout running back Dion Lewis.

    They also have lost two defensive playmakers in Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard, which won't help the Panthers' defensive line get to a scrambling Geno Smith, allowing him to keep his eyes down field and find the open receiver.

    Last season, the Panthers fumbled the ball six times, leading to many short fields for the Mountaineers to work with.

    West Virginia quarterback Smith didn't hesitate in helping his team get another win, going 9-12 for 212 yards and three touchdowns.

    Leaving Mountaineer Field with still full stomachs from Thanksgiving the day before will be a great feeling for West Virginia fans as their team ends up winning this version of the Backyard Brawl, bringing them one step closer to a National Championship berth.

     

    Prediction:

    West Virginia 48, Pittsburgh 27

Thursday, Dec. 1: South Florida Bulls

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    South Florida is returning only three offensive starters from last season.

    That was a season they built an 8-5 record and defeated Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl 31-26.

    But they won't have last season's leading rusher Moise Plancher as well as leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, though, they have added former Colorado RB Darrell Scott to help beef up the running back group.

    The season really lies on the arm of B.J. Daniels, a junior who put up impressive numbers in his freshman season at USF but has not lived up to expectations since then, even missing playing time last year.

    The mobile Daniels could be a major factor in whether the Bulls finish third in the Big East conference as they're predicted to.

    Second-year head coach Skip Holtz, son of legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, will be relying on his defense to help his young offense along throughout the season.

    Though I do believe that USF could do very well this year in the Big East, they haven't done much to improve upon the 20-6 loss that they suffered last year at the hands of the then No. 25 West Virginia Mountaineers.

    By the end of this game, West Virginia will have their best shot at a National Championship since the days of Rich Rodriguez's high scoring offenses, though, the Mountaineers will be scoring through the air, not on the ground.

    Given the level of talent the Mountaineers possess, as long as they stay healthy, I see no reason they can't get it done and finish the year undefeated, and quite possibly bring home a championship to Morgantown.

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