By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian
Like Las Vegas oddsmakers, USA Today’s sports writer Paul Myerberg doesn’t rank West Virginia highly in that newspaper’s early college football predictions in a copyrighted piece.
In one of its thorough pieces, USA Today analyzed West Virginia in its No. 78 ranking among 128 college teams. That’s what is called a countdown from No. 128 to No. 1.
Myerberg wrote, “We can define West Virginia’s in-progress slide in many ways, using many metrics, relying on many forms of statistical comparison and calling on any number of just-the-facts descriptions, but let’s keep it simpler.”
Then he recalled that coach Dana Holgorsen’s team was the first in the Big 12 Conference since 2009 to lose to both Kansas and Iowa State the same season.
“That’s one way to put the Mountaineers’ current existence into perspective,” the writer stated. “If you’re searching for another, consider that WVU is 4-12 after September during the past two years.
“If you’re looking for a third, consider how last year’s squad didn’t merely finish ninth in the Big 12 in total defense — this is now par for the course — but also fifth in total offense.”
He noted that’s about 50 percent of Baylor’s national best clip.
West Virginia’s preseason ranking a year ago by USA Today was No. 57.
The Mountaineers finished with a deeply disappointing record of 4-8.
WVU was 2-7 in the conference.
Holgorsen, in his fourth year as a head coach at any level, has a record of 21-17. That includes a 10-3 mark in 2011 with players recruited by the late Bill Stewart, when he was replaced that year.
WVU has 14 starters returning — seven on offense and seven on defense.
The USA Today writer recalled, “Baylor is what WVU was supposed to be — and what WVU was for a short time, during its 5-0 start as a member of the Big 12 Conference in 2012.
“Now, those were the days West Virginia outscored Baylor and Texas to surge into the top five before tumbling to also-ran status, and then found a new low in a disastrous 2013.
“How quickly all can change. The offense went from unstoppable to error-prone,” Myerberg said.
For readers’ sake, herein I decided not to include that in this column. You have read about that previously.
There also were sketchy notes about certain players and positions to watch in sizing up West Virginia’s chances for a winning season and a bowl bid.
Missing back-to-back postseasons would be the first such set by WVU since ’91-’92.
Here is how Paul Myerberg of USA Today Sports wound up his most interesting breakdown and prediction on WVU:
“It’s difficult to be overly optimistic. But let’s give optimism a try: West Virginia simply can’t be worse, I’d say, and has significant room for growth at quarterback, wide receiver, the offensive line, the defensive back seven and on special teams.
“At the same time, I’m impressed by the quality of the backfield and the potential in the secondary ...
“Let’s be a touch more realistic about WVU’s strengths, weaknesses and unknowns.
“One strength is the running game ... another could be receiver. But quarterback could be an unknown, if not worse, until Clint Trickett proves he can make the throws in Holgorsen’s system ...
“So this isn’t a Big 12 contender, but we knew that already. Instead, I see WVU as a borderline bowl team — not three-win bad, as some have suggested, but hovering somewhere between five and seven wins.
“WVU wins five if the current predicaments at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and special teams remain unresolved; WVU goes 7-5 if two or three groups improve before the opener.”