College football betting preview: Big 12

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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The VSiN college football experts have been hard at work this summer, writing up team previews and predictions for all 131 FBS teams, including their favorite individual season win total and College Football Playoff bets.

Here are the team previews for the Big 12:

BAYLOR

Some coordinators wind up being bad head coaches, but it certainly doesn’t seem as if Dave Aranda is going to be one of those. Baylor went 2-7 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season and rebounded to go 12-2 and beat Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl in a battle of top-10 teams. The Bears were better in all facets last season, and some believe they’re the team to beat in the Big 12 this season.

Offense

The Bears had a choice to make at quarterback between Gerry Bohanon and Blake Shapen. With Bohanon now at South Florida, this is Shapen’s team, but there isn’t a ton of experience behind him. The sophomore QB completed 72.1% of his passes and had a 5-0 TD-INT ratio with Bohanon banged up late in the season. He was the better practice player and now tries to uphold the standards of an offense that averaged 6.3 yards per play last season.

It won’t be easy as Baylor lost 2,400 rushing yards from Abram Smith and Tristan Ebner, plus its top three receivers. There will be a lot of new faces for offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who is only in his second year after coming from BYU. Baylor is low on recruiting stars at the offensive skill positions, but the line is mostly intact with four returning starters, which may give players time to get open or find holes.

As long as Baylor can win the line of scrimmage, the physical style of play can work in the Big 12. The Bears gave up only 18 sacks last season and had at least 5.4 yards per carry for the first time since 2015.

Defense

Baylor is still going to attempt to win with defense in a conference not known for that. The Bears allowed only 3.3 yards per carry and 5.2 yards per play last season. Those numbers closely mirrored the 2019 season when Baylor went 11-3. Playing defense in this conference can be a separator, and the Bears have six returning starters, along with a couple of brilliant minds in Aranda and DC Ron Roberts.

The Bears will try to find new stars on defense, too. They lost 24.5 tackles for loss from Jalen Pitre, JT Woods and Terrel Bernard, with Woods one of two players from the secondary taken in the NFL draft. Aranda and Roberts will have to get some rapid development from guys who were backups last season.

Baylor is still stacked on the defensive line, so the development of the back seven will set the ceiling for this year’s squad.

Outlook

Baylor was + 26 in sack differential (44 sacks) and + 12 in turnover margin. Those two things are unlikely to be repeated with Shapen running less at QB and so many losses on defense. Baylor draws BYU again in nonconference, and the Big 12 schedule is also more difficult with five road games during the nine-game Big 12 schedule, including trips to Oklahoma and Texas, as well as tough travel spots to Iowa State and West Virginia.

This is an outstanding coaching staff that will earn its money this season. My projections give Baylor 8.1 wins, which is in line with the 7.5 and heavy juice on the Over. Your outlook on Baylor is dependent on how much you respect Aranda and what you think of the rest of the Big 12.

PICK: Over 7.5 (-150)

IOWA STATE

Matt Campbell’s streak of five consecutive winning seasons might be in jeopardy. What Campbell has done to build up the Iowa State program is incredible, especially given that he inherited a team that went 8-28 in the three years before his arrival. The Cyclones went 3-9 in Year 1 but have won at least seven games every season since. With a ton of talent to replace, the task looks daunting in Ames.

Offense

Four-year starter Brock Purdy left as the program’s all-time leading passer by nearly 3,000 yards. Three-year starter Breece Hall left as the program’s second-leading rusher, just over 400 yards behind Troy Davis. Tight end Charlie Kolar was the third of Iowa State’s draft picks on offense to leave after last season. Xavier Hutchinson could be one next year, but he is the only noteworthy returning skill player.

Hutchinson caught 83 passes for 987 yards and he is the only returnee who had at least 270 receiving yards. With in experienced QB room, Campbell and offensive coordinator Tom Manning will have to work some magic. Hunter Dekkers threw 36 passes last season and is the only player on the roster with FBS attempts. Nate Glantz was a two-year starter at FCS Iowa Western and true freshman Rocco Becht (son of NFL TE Anthony) seems likely to redshirt.

The Cyclones averaged 6.4 yards per play last season and Purdy completed nearly 72% of his passes as the offense also relied heavily on Hall with 1,472 yards and 20 rushing scores. Iowa State does return three starters on the line, but this offense will be a work in progress.

Defense

The defensive losses are heavy as well. The Cyclones return only three starters and lose their top four tacklers and six of the top eight. Fortunately, first-team All-American Will McDonald is one of them after recording 11.5 of the team’s 33 sacks.

The defensive progression under Campbell and DC Jon Heacock has been fascinating as the Cyclones have allowed under 370 yards in each of the last five seasons and anywhere from 5.1 to 5.4 yards per play. Campbell’s consistency has been a major calling card for the program.

This could be an extremely young defense. The top three recruits in the 2022 class were all defensive players, and several projected starters are sophomores, though more like juniors with the COVID year not counting toward eligibility. The culture in Ames is so strong that Campbell is likely to get more out of his team than most coaches would, but the losses are hard to ignore, particularly with an offense that won’t control the game as much.

Outlook

Five of Iowa State’s six losses last season were by a touchdown or less. This is a team that should find a way to be competitive, but with a lot less experience, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a lot of close losses again. The Cyclones get a big test in Week 2 against rival Iowa to go along with a couple of very winnable nonconference games.

Iowa State does have the fifth home game with the nine-game Big 12 schedule, so the team has a shot at running its bowl streak to six years, but this absolutely feels like a transitional year. My projection is for exactly 6.5 wins and the line is right at 6.5, but the lean is on the Under with so many new faces.

PICK: Under 6.5 (-110)

 

KANSAS

Rock (almost never) Chalk Jayhawk pulled off one huge stunner in Lance Leipold’s first year in Lawrence. Kansas beat Texas 57-56 in overtime to snap a 56-game road losing streak in Big 12 play. On the whole, the Jayhawks were a lot more competitive last season, though they were favored only once (-12.5 vs. South Dakota) and a dog of more than two touchdowns in every other game. Kansas hasn’t won more than three games since 2009. Is this the year?

Offense

QB Jalon Daniels looked like somebody to build around as the starter over the last three games. Not only did he lead the upset win over the Longhorns, but he completed nearly 71% of his passes with a 6-3 TD-INT ratio in those games. Kansas can create some interesting packages with Daniels and backup QB Jason Bean, who was the team’s second-leading rusher with 400 yards.

The running back room looks upgraded with Minnesota transfer Ky Thomas and super sophomore Devin Neal, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. The Kansas ground game managed only 3.8 yards per carry, but the offensive line yielded only 16 sacks after allowing 47 in just nine games the previous season.

This won’t look like the offense we saw with Todd Reesing during the Mark Mangino years, but the Jayhawks are trending up, and any positives with low expectations would represent another step in the right direction.

Defense

Help is still needed, but the defense simply can’t be as bad as it has been over the last decade. Last year’s unit allowed more than 42 points per game and more than 7 yards per play. With a limited offense, those numbers make it virtually impossible to win. As the season went along, though, there were some bright spots, including competent efforts to end the season against TCU and Virginia in close losses as big underdogs.

Leading sack man Kyron Johnson is gone, but Kansas should continue to get more pressure now that the transition to a 4-3 defense has taken hold. There are eight starters back on defense and Leipold and his assistants dug into the transfer portal for some depth. The Jayhawks especially added help in the secondary with transfers from Michigan State (Kalon Gervin) and Purdue (Marvin Grant).

Outlook

Nobody is expecting miracles, but four wins and more interest in the program at a major basketball school would be a huge stepping stone. I don’t think Kansas gets there, as my projections have 2.33 wins, but Kansas will be favored over Tennessee Tech and Duke in nonconference. For a team that has been favored only 17 times in the last 10 seasons, that’s a step in the right direction.

Kansas will still be a double-digit dog in every conference game and has five on the road with the nine-game Big 12 schedule. Another shocker may be possible, but this season is less about wins and losses and more about individual player development.

PICK: Under 2.5 (+ 115)

 

KANSAS STATE

There are two gates with five commercial flights per day out of Manhattan Regional Airport, and the only departures are to Chicago O’Hare (2) and Dallas/Fort Worth (3). Manhattan is almost an hour from Topeka and almost two hours from St. Louis. From a football standpoint, especially in a Power Five conference, this is about as remote as it gets. Recruiting is not easy, yet Kansas State fields a competitive football team virtually every year. The same will be true this season.

Offense

Head coach Chris Klieman has followed in the footsteps of predecessor Bill Snyder by attacking the transfer portal and the junior-college ranks. This offseason, he just so happened to poach talent from Nebraska, including quarterback Adrian Martinez. Whether or not Klieman and offensive coordinator and Wildcats legend Collin Klein can get the best out of Martinez may define the season.

That’s assuming Martinez can beat out Will Howard for the job. Given that Howard has a career 54% completion rate and a 9-11 TD-INT ratio, it should happen, but the offense is going to run through Deuce Vaughn anyway. The 5-foot-6 super sophomore rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, while also finishing with the most receptions and second-most receiving yards. His proficiency created throwing lanes for Skylar Thompson, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Dolphins.

Only two linemen return for the Wildcats, but this is almost always a sound team in the trenches. Klein’s offense will have some different wrinkles and spread concepts, so we’ll have to see how the Wildcats do with the changes early in the season.

Defense

This is where the JUCOs almost always come into play. The COVID-altered 2020 season was an outlier for Kansas State, as this defense has held the opposition under 26 points per game in five of the last six seasons, including just 21 points per game in 2021. The Wildcats had their best season against the run since 2017 and limited big plays in the passing game by being fundamentally sound.

Kansas State allowed only 5.4 yards per play and gave up only 18 plays of 20 or more yards. Seven starters are back on this defense with a third-year defensive coordinator in Joe Klanderman, who has been an assistant under Klieman dating to 2014. Questioning whether the defense can put up the same statistics is fair, but this should be another solid unit.

After allowing 37 points to Oklahoma and 33 to Iowa State, the Wildcats allowed only 17.9 points per game in their last six. They do have to replace DB Ross Yeast, who was the captain of the defense and led with 10 pass breakups and four of the team’s 11 interceptions.

Outlook

The Wildcats will be comfortably favored in three nonconference home games before going to Norman to take on the Sooners. Kansas State has pulled off some big upsets in that rivalry, and the games are usually very close. The Wildcats do get five road games with the nine-game Big 12 schedule, including a tough back-to-back against Baylor and West Virginia late in the season, when depth might be a question.

My projections have Kansas State with 7.55 wins, and their posted win total is 6.5, albeit with heavy Over juice. There are a lot of toss-up games on the schedule, though, and the QB play will determine their chances in those. As somebody out on Martinez because of the turnovers, I’d lean more toward pessimism than optimism.

PICK: Under 6.5 (+ 145)

 

OKLAHOMA

It was going to take a special head coaching job to get Brent Venables to leave Clemson. As the highest-paid coordinator in the country, Dabo Swinney’s right-hand man ran an elite defense in a weak conference, so a top program would have to come calling and do so with a big check. Oklahoma did and now the Sooners have a first-time head coach with a championship pedigree in hopes of getting over the College Football Playoff hump.

Offense

QB Dillon Gabriel put up huge numbers at UCF and owns a career 70-14 TD-INT ratio, so Oklahoma might not miss a beat despite the losses of Caleb Williams (USC) and Spencer Rattler (South Carolina). The offense should still be creative and run at a breakneck pace with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who was at Ole Miss the last two seasons. The departure of Lincoln Riley and the two QBs may have longer-term ramifications, but this season looks just fine.

The big questions are at the skill positions. Leading rusher Kennedy Brooks went to the NFL and Williams was the second-leading rusher, so a couple of top-10 RB recruits in the 2022 class and Tennessee transfer Eric Gray will battle it out for reps. Four of the top five receivers left as well, though big-play threat Marvin Mims is back after having 22 yards per reception last season.

Last season was the worst in the Riley era from a yards-per-play standpoint at 6.9, so there are big shoes to fill, but the scheme should be fairly similar and Gabriel has plenty of experience running up-tempo offenses.

Defense

The quick-strike offense often hurt the defense, and that will be a concern with Lebby’s fast-paced group. The Sooners are in good hands from a coaching standpoint, though, as Venables was an elite recruiter on that side of the ball and an excellent teacher. Veteran DC Ted Roof will be another trusted voice, especially as Venables deals with the additional responsibilities of being a head coach.

The Sooners were stingy against the run last season, allowing only 3.8 yards per carry but got burned through the air for 262 yards per game and a completion rate of 65.8%. We know Clemson was always strong in the secondary, so Venables should fix that area and he has a lot of underclassmen to work with.

Oklahoma lost three draft picks on the defensive line, so the run defense may fall back, but the secondary should be better, and that’s a decent trade-off in the Big 12.

Outlook

There seems to be a perception that Oklahoma won’t be as explosive, but the program is still in excellent shape. Bob Stoops brought everybody together for the Alamo Bowl win over Oregon, and Venables is a tremendous hire. The nonconference schedule is pretty weak (depending on your view of Nebraska) and the Sooners get Baylor and perennial thorn-in-the-side Kansas State at home.

My numbers have Oklahoma at least a touchdown favorite in every game except the Red River Rivalry on a neutral field against Texas and the game against Baylor at home. My projection is 9.63 wins, but as long as Oklahoma avoids a bad loss, 10-2 seems like the worst-case scenario in the regular season.

PICK: Over 9.5 (-120)

 

OKLAHOMA STATE

The Cowboys lost two games by eight combined points last season. They were a play here or there away from possibly going 14-0 and heading to the College Football Playoff. Of course, they also had four wins by seven or fewer points. There is a ton to replace on defense, and how quickly they do will define whether or not the Cowboys can compete for the Big 12 title again.

Offense

Spencer Sanders is the longest-tenured starting QB in the Big 12 and he’s coming off of a season in which he was a conference first-teamer. He accounted for 26 total touchdowns while completing 62% of his passes, along with being the second-leading rusher behind Jaylen Warren. The pressure on Sanders goes up a few notches this season because Warren is gone and so is Tay Martin, who caught 80 of the team’s 274 completions last season.

Head coach Mike Gundy seems to find productive backs and receivers every year, but it does seem like a concern given the substantial losses on defense. The Cowboys managed only 5.5 yards per play for the second straight season but did score more than 30 points per game for the seventh straight year. However, they scored 55 against Kansas and 63 against TCU to make the numbers look a bit better.

Oklahoma State’s 68 red-zone trips were tied for the sixth most in the nation, but their 60.3% TD% ranked 68th. Given the skill-position losses, this could be an Achilles heel again.

Defense

The Cowboys had 57 sacks last season in 14 games. They held opponents to just 2.7 yards per carry and 4.6 yards per play. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who had been the architect of that unit since 2018, got a Brinks truck worth of money from Ohio State for the same role to be one of the five highest-paid assistant coaches in the country.

Gundy acted quickly to make a very strong hire in former Vanderbilt head coach and Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason. What Mason can’t do is replace the talent that was lost. The Cowboys lost their top four tacklers, who combined for 12.5 sacks, 26 QB hits, 20 tackles for loss and 20 pass breakups. Overall, only four starters are back on defense, so a drop is coming.

Fortunately, most of the returning starters are on the defensive line, so Mason can focus on replenishing the back seven. Gundy is good at poaching the JUCO ranks, so the Cowboys may not fall too far, depending on how quickly the newcomers step up.

Outlook

The nonconference schedule is weak, but we did see Oklahoma State beat Missouri State by only seven and Tulsa by five last season. All three games are at home and the Cowboys will be huge favorites. In league play, a bye before facing Baylor in the conference opener on Oct. 1 should be helpful, but Bedlam is on the road in Norman and against a Sooners team that should be buttoned up by mid-November.

Despite the losses, my projection is 9.03 wins for Oklahoma State with the line at 8.5 and a little bit of additional Under juice. Once again, it will come down to one-possession games with some close lines against Baylor, Texas and Kansas State.

PICK: Over 8.5 (+ 105)

 

TCU

Sometimes a program simply needs a new voice. Under Gary Patterson, TCU won at least 11 games three times from 2014 to 2017, but the program had been struggling to keep up the last few seasons in the Big 12. Because the game was canceled in 2020, the Horned Frogs haven’t played a bowl since 2018, and that seems like a reasonable barometer for first-year head coach Sonny Dykes and a revamped staff.

Offense

The cupboard is hardly bare for Dykes. There was a lot of discontent within the program as Patterson was on his way out. The offense reeled off 6.7 yards per play last season but converted that into only 28.7 points per game. The Horned Frogs were ninth in third-down conversion rate but 86th in TD% in the red zone.

QB Max Duggan started eight games but got hurt, opening the door for talented freshman Chandler Morris to play a few games while maintaining his redshirt eligibility. The two will compete for starting reps this season. Whoever wins the job will be missing leading running back Zach Evans, but sophomore Kendre Miller was just 25 yards behind Evans and had more touchdowns and more yards per carry.

Three receivers caught at least 30 passes and all are back this season, along with true freshman Jordan Hudson, who was the 20th-ranked wide receiver in the 2022 class. Dykes is an offensive guy and he brought over his co-offensive coordinators from SMU, whose offenses scored more than 38 PPG the last two seasons. There should be a lot of optimism on offense.

Defense

The defensive performance is how we knew Patterson’s impact on the program was waning. TCU allowed nearly 35 points per game and 7.2 yards per play last season. The edge rushers generated very little pressure with just 15 sacks as a team and opponents rushed for 5.8 yards per carry.

Former Tulsa defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie gained respect from Dykes because his Mustangs were flustered and flummoxed in the head-to-head meetings, so this is something of an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” situation. Gillespie has been a national semifinalist for the Broyles Award (best DC) multiple times and has a lot of talent to work with given what this pipeline has looked like outside of last season.

Tulsa’s defense allowed 3.9 and 3.6 yards per carry, respectively, over the last two seasons and performed very well against the pass in each of the last four years. How quickly this experienced defense picks up the scheme will be the story.

Outlook

This team is extremely hard to gauge. The schedule features what will be a remarkably contentious matchup at SMU in Dykes’ return. TCU actually plays two road games in nonconference, which is rare for a Power Five team. The Horned Frogs do play five at home in Big 12 play and play only three games outside of Texas all season long (Colorado, Kansas, West Virginia).

The ceiling could be high and the floor could be low depending on the QB play and how quickly everything jells. My projection is 6.41 wins, but there is some Over juice on the 6.5, and that’s the side I’d rather be on.

PICK: Over 6.5 (-140)

 

TEXAS

The Longhorns haven’t won the Big 12 since 2009. For a program that finished lower than second just twice from 1990 to 2009, the fact that Texas has finished second just twice (2013, 2018) in the last 12 years is simply shocking. There is some optimism surrounding Steve Sarkisian’s second season, but the “Texas is back” crowd may not get its wish this year.

Offense

The ceiling for the season could very well be determined by quarterbacks Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card. Ewers, who originally graduated high school early to enroll at Ohio State and capitalize on some NIL money, redshirted, then transferred to Texas. Card started two games last season behind Casey Thompson, who is now at Nebraska. There isn’t a lot of experience at quarterback, but there’s a ton of talent and potential.

The Longhorns also have maybe the best running back in the country in Bijan Robinson, who rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns as a COVID freshman after rushing for 703 yards as a true freshman in 2020. The running game looks solid with all three top rushers and three returning starters on the offensive line back for a second season under Sark and OC Kyle Flood.

WR Xavier Worthy looks like a Sunday player, as he caught 62 balls for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman. The offense really wasn’t the issue last season, racking up 6.3 yards per play and better than 35 points per game.

Defense

When you give up 57 points to Kansas, you really need to evaluate a lot of things. Texas gave up more than 6.1 yards per play to Big 12 opponents and ranked 102nd in the nation in yards per play allowed overall. The one saving grace is that opponents scored only 29 touchdowns on 51 red-zone trips as Texas narrowly cracked the top 50 in TD%.

Seven starters are back, and a bunch of talented underclassmen will get more reps in DC Pete Kwiatkowski’s scheme. Texas has to be better at the point of attack. The Longhorns gave up 5.1 yards per carry and managed only 20 sacks. With minimal pressure on the quarterback, the secondary got lost in coverage, allowing opponents to complete nearly 68% of their passes.

That is an inexcusable level of performance from a program with this much talent, but then again, Texas didn’t even have a player taken in this past NFL draft, which seems rather telling.

Outlook

The state of the Texas program is such that we look at the game against UTSA right after hosting Alabama in Week 2 and wonder if the Longhorns can even be trusted to win that one (my line is -14.5). Road trips to Stillwater and Manhattan could be tricky, but the Longhorns are on a neutral site against new-look Oklahoma and host Baylor in the season finale.

There is a ton of talent clad in burnt orange, and Sarkisian seems to be doing an outstanding job on the recruiting trail. This program truly feels like it is building up to something special, but will this year be the start? My projection is 8.22 wins with a win total line of 8.5 juiced to the Under, and that seems like the right expectation. Because Ewers and Card are inexperienced, though, I’d lean slightly toward a better chance at 7-5 than 9-3.

PICK: Under 8.5 (-120)

 

TEXAS TECH

The firing of Matt Wells blindsided the college football world last season, but the players showed a lot of resiliency and still managed to go to a bowl game and win it. The Red Raiders finished 7-6 with that win over Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl and also had a competitive loss to Baylor in the regular-season finale. Texas Tech has put together a fascinating coaching staff, and brighter days may be ahead.

Offense

Zach Kittley is a name that everybody should know in college football. The new Texas Tech offensive coordinator is going to bring back the Fun and Gun, as this offense is going to throw the ball a ton. Kittley and quarterback Bailey Zappe were a package deal from Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky last season, where the Hilltoppers were second to Mississippi State in pass attempts with 697, which was 122 more than Purdue in third. WKU threw 63 touchdown passes and racked up 6,072 passing yards. Zappe threw for 426 yards per game.

I have no idea if QB Tyler Shough is the right guy to run this offense, but he’s going to be asked to drop back and chuck it a lot. Texas Tech has a strong route runner in 5-10 Myles Price and a lot of tall targets otherwise. Tahj Brooks is a fine running back who averaged 6.5 yards per carry and SaRodorick Thompson had 10 rushing scores, but neither guy was much of a receiving threat.

The offensive line is full of transfers, though one, Cole Spencer, started at WKU with Kittley’s offense last season. This is going to be an incredible offense to watch, but there are going to be ups and downs.

Defense

The Red Raiders defense has allowed at least 30 points per game every season since 2009, and that streak probably won’t end this season with this offensive scheme. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is a highly respected and accomplished coach, but this is a tough gig. Texas Tech will play a 4-2-5, which may help in the pass-happy Big 12, especially since most of the returning production is in the secondary.

Texas Tech allowed 5.9 yards per play and didn’t generate many negative plays with only 20 sacks. The defense couldn’t get off the field on third down (116th) or in the red zone, as opponents scored a touchdown 66% of the time (101st). With an upgraded defensive coordinator and play caller, those situations could improve in Lubbock.

When you look at it, the Red Raiders had the disaster against Texas with 70 points allowed and managed to hang in a lot of games and gave up only seven points with plenty of prep time for the Liberty Bowl. DeRuyter’s defenses have generally been good at forcing turnovers, something Texas Tech has struggled with in recent seasons.

Outlook

Like with so many Big 12 teams, all the changes make it difficult to project a team’s success. This is an overhaul on both sides of the ball, and expectations aren’t that high for this season. Kittley is only 30 and this is his first Power Five coordinator job after being a student assistant and then a graduate assistant here from 2013-17. McGuire is known as one of the best recruiters in the country, so he’s going to build up the talent with all the high school riches in the Lone Star State.

This could go a lot of ways, and the nonconference schedule is tricky with Houston and NC State. The win total line is 5.5 and my projection is 4.51, so I’m much more skeptical than the market. I don’t know if Shough is the guy to run this offense efficiently and the position could be in a state of flux throughout the season.

Pick: Under 5.5 (-110)

 

WEST VIRGINIA

There is such a fine line between a losing season and a winning one. West Virginia was punchless in its Guaranteed Rate Bowl loss to Minnesota to finish 6-7, but there were some missed opportunities early in the year. The Mountaineers were -4 in turnover margin in a 30-24 season-opening loss to Maryland and lost by three to both Oklahoma on the road and Texas Tech at home to start Big 12 play. WVU is 17-18 under Neal Brown, and another .500ish season is looming.

Offense

After winning at least seven games from 2014-18 under Dana Holgorsen with a lot more offensive punch, the Mountaineers are still struggling to find their identity on that side of the ball. Maybe QB JT Daniels, the Georgia transfer and former USC recruit, is the answer. Jarret Doege showed flashes last season, but his 12 interceptions overshadowed a lot of the good things he did. Daniels will lead a rebuilt offense with a dramatically different scheme.

Former Texas Tech gunslinger Graham Harrell is the new offensive coordinator. He was with Daniels at USC, so the fit makes sense and the Mountaineers will rely less on the run and more on the pass. With running back Leddie Brown gone after another 1,000-yard season, this seems like a good time to make the transition.

The offensive line had a lot of experience under the old schemes with more than 100 career starts, but everything changes now. If nothing else, it will make WVU a lot more exciting to watch, after their games have featured combined scores under 50 points on average every season during Brown’s tenure.

Defense

While a massive overhaul on offense is a big story, what happens to the defense now? There are only four returning starters in Year 2 for defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. The West Virginia defense was tied for 34th in plays against, a number sure to go up with more passes and more quick possessions on offense.

Six of the seven leading tacklers are gone, and West Virginia also looks likely to regress in red-zone defense, after finishing sixth with a TD% against of 42% when the opposition got inside the 20. The entire back seven is being replaced, which could be a good thing after some underwhelming numbers from the secondary, but this group will be under duress with the offensive changes.

Brown and Lesley hit the JUCO ranks hard and picked up some Power Five transfers, so we’ll see if they isolated the right ones. Depth will also be a huge factor.

Outlook

Any time a team goes through a major transition, you have to assume the worst and hope for the best. Daniels was a big-time recruit as the No. 2 QB in the 2018 class, but he hasn’t really played up to that level. He had a 15-11 TD-INT ratio at USC in this scheme and has attempted only 213 passes in two years since. This could go south for WVU and end up being a season in which true freshman QB Nicco Marchiol has a potential redshirt burned to get going earlier than expected.

Road games at Pitt and Virginia Tech on Thursday nights are a tough way to get going in the first month, though an early bye week might be a godsend to fix any glaring issues. Still, my numbers have WVU at 4.7 wins and the market line of 5.5 looks to be high.

PICK: Under 5.5 (-110)

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