Through the years, I’ve written for Athlon Sports, mostly for its preseason football and basketball editions. And once again this year, despite my career change, I again helped, previewing WVU’s upcoming football season.
I also continue to keep up with the rest of the Big 12 and, to a lesser degree, the entire college football landscape.
I found it interesting, for instance, The Oklahoman ranked the best nonconference schedules for 2019 and had that of WVU No. 15. (“WVU has led the charge in improved scheduling,” writes Berry Tramel, “with two Power 5 opponents becoming the norm.”)
I saw where the Des Moines Register ranked Iowa State’s 2019 opponents and players and placed the Mountaineers No. 6.
Which got me thinking. And researching.
How should we rank WVU’s upcoming opponents?
Those that have followed me through the years know I do my own research. Although I submit work for Athlon, for instance, I don’t necessarily come to the same conclusions.
Of course, there are many aspects with which to factor. The Mountaineers’ average recruiting class rank in 2016, ’17 and ’18, at least according to 247 Sports, is No. 43 nationally. Yet that doesn’t take into consideration transfers like quarterback Austin Kendall or receiver George Campbell. There’s the now infamous “transfer portal” and the flux it creates.
Yet let’s give this a shot, shall we? Below is how I’d rank WVU’s 2019 opponents.
- Texas – I know, I know. You’re sick of hearing that Texas is back. But the Longhorns did split with Oklahoma last season and made an appearance against the Sooners in the Big 12 title game. Texas beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. It won 10 games. Sam Ehlinger is back at QB and getting Heisman Trophy buzz. And in the last three recruiting classes no Big 12 staff has fared better than Tom Herman and company.
- Oklahoma – The Sooners have been killing it in the world of recruiting as well. And why not? Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray. College Football Playoff spots. OU has been the standard for Big 12 football. Yet we’ll see if Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts is a fit for the Sooners’ offense. We’ll see if Lincoln Riley and coordinator Alex Grinch can make the defense more stingy.
- TCU – I have much more respect for the Horned Frogs than most. First, Gary Patterson’s recruiting efforts have been solid, if not spectacular. Call them Top 25ish. Also, Patterson was very unhappy with his team’s 7-6 record last year. In the past, he’s followed such records with marks of 10-2, 11-1 and 11-3. The No. 1 problem last season was at QB. And now Patterson has four-star signee Max Duggan, who was called the state of Iowa’s best quarterback recruit in two decades.
- Oklahoma State – After struggling to a 7-6 record last season – including a 38-33 bowl win over Missouri – Mike Gundy’s Cowboys seem poised to have a nice year. Their recruiting efforts have improved and touted redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders has OSU fans excited – especially armed with receivers like Tylan Wallace.
- Missouri – QB Drew Lock has indeed left for the Denver Broncos. Also, Mizzou is banned for the 2019 postseason because of academic misconduct violations, according to the NCAA. But it seems the Tiger fanbase has rallied around Barry Odom’s team. Too, ex-Clemson starter Kelly Bryant is taking over for Lock. They are being called the SEC dark horse after going 8-5 last season.
- Baylor – Yes, Baylor. It’s amazing coach Matt Rhule has lifted the Bears from the murky depths in such a short time. Yet BU went from 1-11 to 7-6 – including a Texas Bowl win over Vandy — like that. Rhule has fared well in recruiting and he has fine junior QB Charlie Brewer returning. Now if they can keep Brewer upright…
- Iowa State – Many have the Cyclones picked to finish as high as third in the Big 12. The reason is the way ISU bounced back from a 1-3 start to an 8-4 finish. Also, there’s much respect for coach Matt Campbell. Yet the recruiting in 2016, ’17 and ’18 didn’t go above No. 52, according to 247. Also, standout running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler jumped to the NFL. Much will be on the shoulders of QB Brock Purdy.
- North Carolina State – It’s fortunate for WVU the game is early and in Morgantown. Coach Dave Doeren is rebuilding after back-to-back nine-win seasons. Gone is fine QB Ryan Finley, who was compared in NFL mock drafts last season to the Mountaineers’ Will Grier. Yet N.C. State has fared just as well as Missouri and WVU in recruiting and returns eight defensive starters.
- James Madison – The Dukes could be the best FCS team in the country this year with North Dakota State losing 15 starters. And don’t look now but the coach is Curt Cignetti, whose father once coached at WVU. Also, the QB, Ben DiNucci, used to play for Pitt. Nineteen starters return to last season’s JMU playoff team.
- Texas Tech – Kliff Kingsbury is gone to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. In his place is ex-Utah State coach Matt Wells. He has a chore ahead of him. The recruiting efforts before him have been Iowa State-esque. Also, while QB Alan Bowman is a gamer in the Air Raid, the defense allowed 288 passing yards a game last season.
- Kansas – I keep getting this feeling new KU coach Les Miles is going to benefit from the groundwork laid by fired David Beaty. The latter tried to untangle a scholarship mess caused by Charlie Weis and actually fared OK in regard to recruiting. Beaty also put into place Pooka Williams, the running back that was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year last season.
- Kansas State – The magic that was coach Bill Snyder is gone. The cupboard looks pretty bare. The recruiting has been anything but great. And last season the offense ranked No. 114 nationally, while the defense was No. 71.
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