MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: WVU’s new era begins Saturday
The WVU Mountaineers will begin a new era in 2019, as former head coach Dana Holgorsen has moved on to Houston after 8 years and Neal Brown comes to West Virginia from Troy University.
The 2018 season was the best opportunity since joining the Big 12 for West Virginia to have gained a berth in the league championship game, a reasonable goal before the season began. But Mountaineer fans saw that opportunity disappear after a blown 17 point halftime lead at Oklahoma State followed by an excruciating 59-56 home loss to Oklahoma to end the season. The disappointment was made all the more painful by the realization that for a program like WVU the opportunities to attain a championship level don’t come often.
It is against that backdrop that Neal Brown takes over the reigns as the new head coach. In his short time thus far in Morgantown it is clear that Mountaineer fans will find the new leader to be much more user friendly. That alone, of course, does not win football games, but having a new, young, pleasant and competent face of the football program is a good beginning.
His task will not be easy. West Virginia loses a quarterback, two wide receivers and a tight end who as of now are still on NFL rosters. That is a ton of talent to lose, not to mention that only five starters return on the defensive side as well. With a new coaching staff there will be new schemes for players to learn and an adjustment to a new culture. Add to that a very difficult schedule, with five of the nine conference games away from home and a road trip to SEC foe Missouri. In fact, WVU is one of only five college football teams to play six true road games against Power Five opponents (the others are Boston College, California, Texas Tech and TCU).
And history tells us that many proven college football coaches do not fare well in their first year at their new job. Examples abound: In 2018 Scott Frost was 4-8 at Nebraska and Chip Kelly 3-9 at UCLA. One of the hottest upcoming coaches is Matt Campbell, who has turned around the Iowa State program but was 3-9 his first year there. Nick Saban, who is at the pinnacle of college football, lost 6 games his first year at Alabama. Jim Tressel lost 5 in year one at Ohio State. Even Neal Brown himself was 4-8 his first year at Troy before 10, 11 and 10 win seasons.
The point here is not to make excuses, but to simply recognize reality. Having immediate success at a new head coaching position is extremely difficult at all but the most elite of programs. So as fans we will need to be patient. We may not see immediate results in the win column, but most believe the program under new leadership is on the right track. Peeking into my crystal ball, I will predict a 6-6 season in 2019. A modest achievement, perhaps, but with a view toward more success in future years.
THIS SATURDAY: James Madison is only an FCS program, but has proven to be among the best at that level, and the Dukes are probably better than a number of FBS teams. Last season they were very competitive in a 24-13 loss at N.C. State. There is a WVU connection here, as their first year coach is Curt Cignetti, who played at West Virginia in the early 80s and whose father is former Mountaineer head coach Frank Cignetti. This one could be tight. WEST VIRGINIA 24 JAMES MADISON 17.