Talking ’Eers & Bucks
They’re here, and it seems like they’re getting earlier and earlier every year.
They are the preseason college football preview magazines on the newstands.
Amazingly, West Virginia is seen by both Street & Smith’s and Athlon Sports finishing at No. 22 in the nation, Athlon at 8-4 and third behind Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 while Street & Smith’s has the Mountaineers trailing just the Sooners.
Anything about WVU starts with QB Will Grier, “the top quarterback in the Big 12,” said Street & Smith’s, which touts him as a Heisman hopeful who “has all the tools for a big season.” That came after his passing totals last year of 3,490 yards, connecting on 250-of-388 aerials for 34 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions were anything but bad, with the exception of Florida transfer Grier gruesomely breaking the middle figure on his throwing hand while diving into the end zone in game No. 11 to end his season with still 2 1/2 games to go.
Plus, add that to the return of wide receiver in David Sills V, a 2017 Biletnikoff Award finalist with 60 receptions and a FBS-best 18 TDs, among “perhaps the nation’s best receiving corps and WVU will score,” noted Athlon.
But while defensive coordinator Tony Gibson tries to patch up the (departure and injury) holes that hit the Mountaineer defense in the spring,” added Athlon, “the only question is whether the offense will have to score 50 points per game to cover for the defense.”
On the Ohio State side, the Buckeyes are higher up in the pecking order, at either third or fourth nationally in Street & Smith’s and Athlon respectively, and are tabbed to win the Big Ten again this fall.
OSU barely got left out of the College Football Playoff (CFP) last season, finishing in the dreaded fifth place, one spot out of the playoffs, but then dominated USC 24-7 in the Cotton Bowl Classic to finish 12-2.
Gone may be quarterback J.T. Barrett with his experience and efficiency, several key offensive linemen including Rimington Award winner Billy Price as the nation’s top center, a quartet of veteran defensive linemen and two starters in the secondary, but the Buckeyes under Urban Meyer “constantly replace elite players with new ones,” said Street & Smith’s.
Of course, interest in who the QB will be was pretty much decided by the recent transfer of Joe Burrow to LSU, leaving the job to sophomore Dwayne Haskins, who proved his worth and ability when he stepped in for the injured Barrett at Michigan last year and led OSU to a victory.
And running the ball belongs to the twosome of 1,000-yard rushers in redshirt junior Mike Weber and sophomore J.K. Dobbins, who after “racking up 2,029 combined yards and 17 touchdowns last season gives Ohio State two legitimate No. 1 backs,” said Street & Smith’s.
Plus, the Buckeye receiving corps is “deep and returns its top seven performers from a year ago,” noted Athlon, with speedy Parris Campbell in the slot, leading pass-catcher from last year in K.J. Hill (56 receptions, 549 yards, 3 TDs), who “has developed into a quality possession receiver,” and field-stretcher Johnnie Dixon, “who had just 18 receptions last season, but turned eight of them into scores.”
Defensively, despite losing a lot of talent on the D-line that contributed to a national-high 114 tackles for loss last year, OSU still has one of those Bosa boys back in Nick as well as Chase Young, who came on strong as just a true freshman last year, at the ends, with Dre’Mont Jones between them at tackle after a break-out season in 2017.
But the linebackers are a little bit of question marks yet, although not in the Buckeye secondary, which has become a breeding ground for subsequent NFL talent.
This year, even with losing their top cover corner Denzel Ward to the draft and safety Damon Webb to graduation, at least five more players are “hungry talent,” said Athlon, with the necessary experience to move right into any vacant spots — names like Jordan Fuller, “a complete player at safety,” added Athlon, and four others in Jeffrey Okudah, Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield and Shaun Wade.