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Three storylines for West Virginia football in 2018

September 16, 2018

There are five Big 12 schools ranked in the preseason USA Today/Coaches Poll. West Virginia is one of them at No. 20.

But take a look at the final four games on the Mountaineers’ schedule:

WVU plays all four ranked opponents from Nov. 3-23, starting with a trip to No. 21 Texas, followed by No. 16 TCU at home, No. 25 Oklahoma State in Stillwater and No. 5 and 2017 Final Four participant Oklahoma in Morgantown to close the regular season.

Somehow, that little detail escaped coach Dana Holgorsen’s notice (or, at least, he said it did).

“I don’t know our schedule,” he said. “I think we play Kansas State in our first Big 12 game (Sept. 22). I think.

“I know the first three nonconference games, especially one (Saturday) against Tennessee in Charlotte. That’s all I’ve looked at at this point.”

The schedule is difficult, with both Power 5 nonconference foes away from Mountaineer Field (Tennessee and N.C. State in Raleigh).

“We welcome expectations,” Holgorsen said. “We want you guys to talk about us. I think we got a good group coming back.”

Here are three issues to keep an eye on this season:

1. Scoring, no problem

In the first seven seasons of Holgorsen’s stewardship, West Virginia averaged 475 yards per game, eighth-highest total in the nation in that span.

Last year, the Mountaineers scored at least 31 points in five Big 12 games, and quarterback Will Grier, All-America wide receiver David Sills and left tackle Yodny Cajuste came back for more, putting their NFL hopes on hold.

Road graders such as Cajuste and Colton McKivitz could be NFL tackles in a year or two.

The biggest change on offense may involve the play caller. Holgorsen said he fired the former guy -- himself -- and replaced him with Jake Spavital, who returns for his second season as offensive coordinator after serving in the same capacity at California and Texas A&M.

2. But can they run?

Losing Justin Crawford is a big blow. He rushed for 2,245 yards the past two seasons, including 331 against Oklahoma in 2016.

Holgorsen hopes a pack of backs can help fill the void.

Junior Kennedy McKoy managed 596 yards last season, splitting time with Crawford last year, and Crawford and Rushel Shell in 2016.

3. Is there enough on defense?

That’s usually the biggest indictment against Big 12 defenses. They can’t stop anyone.

West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will lean heavily on senior safety Dravon Askew-Henry, an Aliquippa graduate who is mentoring a younger ex-Quip, freshman safety Kwantel Raines.

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