For the first time since it joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012, the West Virginia football team will have a new man at the helm of the program.
After four years as the head coach at Troy University in Alabama, WVU head coach Neal Brown came to Morgantown in January. Since then, he has had his work cut out for him before he can run out onto Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium in week one.
Crafting the roster
Over the offseason, the Mountaineers were gutted — losing their starting quarterback and left tackle, as well as their four leading receivers on offense alone. Defensively, 2018’s top two leading tacklers are gone, as well as the team leader in interceptions.
First things first, Brown and his staff — many of who carried over from Troy — had to find someone to run the offense from the field.
Redshirt junior Jack Allison, as well as redshirt freshman Trey Lowe III, were carryovers from the previous regime. Austin Kendall transferred in from conference rival Oklahoma in January. Jarret Doege, a two-year starter at Bowling Green State University, soon followed in May.
In the backfield, new co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Chad Scott has the four returning rushers from last season at the position all returning. The four running backs — Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway, Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield — are expected to share reps in game.
At wide receiver, transfer players will also lead the way. Redshirt freshman TJ Simmons hauled in 28 receptions for 341 yards in 12 games for WVU last season after transferring from Alabama in 2017. George Campbell, a former five-star recruit from Florida State, and Sean Ryan, who departed Temple after last season, are also expected to play a role in the receiving corps.
On the offensive line, former right tackle Colton McKivitz shifts over to fill the hole in the left tackle position. Josh Sills, who shared time at both guard positions during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, has recently been working at center in fall practice.
When looking at the defensive line, senior Reese Donahue returns from last season. Donahue will play alongside brothers Dante and Darius Stills. Last season, the trio combined for 52 total tackles. Each of them played in all 12 regular season games.
Within the linebacking corps, the leading returner at that position is senior JoVanni Stewart who, in 2018, totaled 54 total tackles and four sacks. He’ll be thrown in with players such as sophomore Josh Chandler, redshirt sophomore VanDarius Cowan and redshirt junior Dylan Tonkery in order to anchor the center of the defense.
In the secondary, the Mountaineers will have to replace two starting members of the 2018 team who decided to depart from the program via the NCAA Transfer Portal, as well as other role players lost to graduation. Outside of redshirt seniors Keith Washington Jr., Josh Norwood and Hakeem Bailey, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will turn to players with little experience, such as redshirt junior Sean Mahone — who has zero career starts — and freshmen Tae Mayo, Nicktroy Fortune and Tykee Smith.
This season, at a glance
To kick off the season, the Mountaineers will take on FCS powerhouse James Madison during week one. The last time the two teams met was in 2012 as WVU emerged victorious over the Monarchs, 42-12, at FedEx Field in a neutral site game.
In week two, West Virginia will travel to Columbia, Missouri, and take on the Southeastern Conference’s Missouri Tigers in Neal Brown’s first away game as WVU head coach. West Virginia won in its last matchup, 26-11, in 2016.
The Mountaineers will return home for week three, taking on NC State. The two teams, who were slated to play last season, had their 2018 matchup canceled due to the effects of Hurricane Florence.
Come week four, West Virginia will travel to Lawrence, Kansas, to take on the Les Miles-led Kansas Jayhawks. The Mountaineers won 38-22 at home in 2018.
After a week off, WVU returns to Milan Puskar Stadium to take on the visiting Texas Longhorns. The Mountaineers defeated Texas last season on a last second score, taking the game by a 42-41 final score.
In week seven, West Virginia will play its second consecutive home game as the Iowa State Hawkeyes travel to Morgantown. WVU was defeated by Iowa State 30-14 last season.
The following week, the Mountaineers travel to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners. In last season’s regular season finale, the Sooners came out on top 59-56.
After a short turnaround, West Virginia will head to Waco, Texas, on Halloween to take on the Baylor Bears. The Mountaineers won in 2018 by a 44-point margin, 58-14.
In week 10, Texas Tech, led by first-year head coach Matt Wells, heads to Morgantown. West Virginia won last year, 42-34, in Lubbock, Texas.
One week later, the Mountaineers travel back out to the state of Kansas, this time taking on Kansas State. In last season’s matchup, West Virginia won 35-6.
On Nov. 23, West Virginia will hold Senior Day when the Oklahoma State Cowboys travel to Milan Puskar Stadium. The Cowboys knocked off the Mountaineers last season, 45-41.
The following week, the Mountaineers will end the regular season the day after Thanksgiving when they travel to TCU. West Virginia won, 47-10, against the Cowboys in the 2018 matchup.