MORGANTOWN — As West Virginia sits on the doorstep of opening a season that almost wasn’t and that may or may not be played through to a conclusion, even in the abbreviated form it takes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is only fitting to take a realistic look at where they are.
Neal Brown will be entering his second season as head coach when what would appear to be a bad Eastern Kentucky team that lost 55-0 to Marshall in its opener last week comes to Mountaineer Field at noon on Saturday in a game shown on Fox Sports 1. His first season was better than expected with five wins and seven losses but the uncertainty surrounding everything about the upcoming year has certainly thrown his building plans out of whack.
The Mountaineers were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 in the Preseason Media Poll, but they seem to have put something together that is more promising than that.
But as far as becoming a championship contender in a league with Oklahoma and Texas, to say nothing of Oklahoma State and a rising Iowa State group, that could be a way off, but how far?
That was what we asked the fans in a poll on Twitter and Facebook that also, through the comments, turned into a question of how long Neal Brown would have to put things together before they got restless.
And, judging from the results and the comments, they certainly don’t expect any miracles this year but would expect WVU to get itself into contention in two or three years, which gives Brown the one thing any coach needs when trying to rebuild a program and that is the time to do it.
Here was the question and the results:
How far away from challenging for a Big 12 football championship is WVU? You can tell me why you feel this way, too, with a comment.
This year 8.2% 8.6%
Next year 32.9% 31.0%
2022 41.6% 41,6%
2023 17.3% 18.8%
And just what were the respondents thinking as they answered the question?
“It’s going to take time, we’ll be better this year, a little better next year and will challenge the year after,” tweeted Doug Marquette.
“It will take time to develop the QB position and O line. SJ will be a senior and skills positions will be developed enough in 2022 to really press for Big 12,” added Justin R. Ayersman on Twitter.
“Minimum 4 years to get the full recruitment and the new culture implemented and it’s dependent on landing a few big recruits and not letting in-state talent get out,” offered Hank Steinmmiller.
The Facebook response, since they couldn’t just check a box, was far more vocal and here’s a sampling off of a posting on two popular WVU football fan sites asking the same question.
“Now that we have a staff that can actually coach, I think 2021 or 22. Once the winning starts, the recruits will, too,” offered Dave Cox.
“Teal chip players ain’t blue chip players,” wrote Max Makesmetz. “Three or four years out. Coach will get some recognition over the next two years and better athletes will start coming to Morgantown. Ain’t X’s and O’s, it’s Jimmies and Joes.”
Recruiting was a recurring theme throughout the returns.
“After we are able to consistently sign eight to 10 more 4-star players per class,” said Richard Bumgardner. “While WVU may catch lightning in a bottle every few years and make a run, history shows the recruiting is what it takes to compete with the elite. Anything less is is just wishful thinking.”
George Case takes an optimistically realistic view. “Playing in the title game? Maybe two years. Winning it means we probably have to beat Oklahoma twice, so probably three or four years off, seeing as we have yet to beat them yet.
Oklahoma is on everyone’s mind when you talk championships. “Let’s focus on beating Oklahoma,” suggests Aaron DeBoni.
“I would settle for a win over Oklahoma in the Big 12,” added David Wilson.
There are some who just can’t see the sunshine through the clouds ... at least not yet.
“2027,” wrote Brian Morris. “Our program has regressed quite a bit. No running game at all and soft O-line. Now starting from scratch with a new defensive coordinator, players transferring. Not a good situation and will take a while to recover.”
“Years,” added Will Alderman. “We are nowhere close. Sad, we had such a good opportunity form 2006-11 but let it get away.”
But here’s the thing. The responses never offered up any opinion that Neal Brown wasn’t the right man for the job nor did anyone infer that he had just this or that amount of time to get it done.
In fact, they seem to believe that he will get it done.
“Honestly,” Jeff Winland said, “2021 or 2022. Those classes are all Neal’s and are shaping up to be good classes. Within a couple of years we will be competing for the Big 12.”
“Look here,” began Brian Crumbaker. “It’s potentially this year. The defense could potentially be very, very good. If Darius Stills is still the same holy terror he was last season, great start. VanDarius Cowan could have a break out monster season. Dante Stills could have monster season. We added depth at linebacker. If we get good production from MLB, this defensive front is going to be very formidable.
“There’s potential at corner and that defensive line will do a lot to help those inexperienced guys,” Crumbaker continued. “Safety still look like a strong group even after the loss of Kerry Martin Jr. for the season. The transfer probably plays in his position now.”
“Coach is bringing in some real talent and has definitely installed a workman’s mentality with the players. I truly believe we’re one or two good bounces from competing nationally,” said David Lowe.
Now all that’s left is to kick it off.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel