Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State football look ahead: West Virginia full of unknowns heading into 2019

New coach Neal Brown has a number of key contributors to replace

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell shares a laugh with former West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen before a Big 12 game in Ames in 2016. Holgorsen is gone and the Mountaineers are in rebuild mode for this year's game. (USA Today Sports)
Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell shares a laugh with former West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen before a Big 12 game in Ames in 2016. Holgorsen is gone and the Mountaineers are in rebuild mode for this year's game. (USA Today Sports)
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AMES — Every team experiences roster turnover, but West Virginia experienced program turnover.

Coach Dana Holgorsen left for Houston and quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Will Grier graduated, along with top receiving targets David Sills, Gary Jennings, Marcus Simms and Trevon Wesco.

That’s just the offensive skill positions.

The Mountaineers’ best offensive lineman, Yodney Cajuste, also graduated.

In the program turnover, West Virginia safeties coach Matt Caponi left for Iowa State to coach cornerbacks.

Holgorsen was replaced by Neal Brown, who went 35-16 at Troy with a 3-0 record in bowl games. His most impressive win was against then-No. 22 LSU, 24-21, in 2017.

Brown brought offensive coordinator Matt Moore and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning from Troy to West Virginia with him.

Troy had the No. 3 scoring offense in the Sun Belt Conference, averaging 30.7 points per game and it had the No. 3 scoring defense, allowing 22 points per game.

Brown and Moore are tasked with finding Grier’s replacement. Grier passed for 3,864 yards, 37 touchdowns and just eight interceptions on 67 percent passing.

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Jack Allison seems the likely candidate. Allison played in seven games last season and passed for 352 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions on 51 percent passing.

Allison is a redshirt junior and, as a redshirt sophomore, got the start at the Camping World Bowl because Grier elected to sit out. In that game, he completed 27 of 35 passes for 277 yards. As a recruit, Allison was the eighth best quarterback prospect, according to 247 Sports.

Whoever wins the starting quarterback spot will have completely new targets in the receiving game.

Sills alone caught 15 touchdowns on 65 receptions for 986 yards. Add in Jennings’ 13 touchdowns and 917 yards and that’s nearly 30 touchdowns and 2,000 yards that’s no longer at West Virginia. That doesn’t account for Simms and Westco, who combined for more than 1,000 yards and three touchdowns.

T.J. Simmons is the Mountaineers’ leading returning receiver. As a redshirt sophomore, Simmons caught 28 passes for 341 yards and one touchdown.

Perhaps the only known on West Virginia’s offense are senior running backs Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway. McKoy rushed 145 times last season for 834 yards and eight touchdowns. Pettaway rushed for 644 yards and six touchdowns on 98 carries.

Both averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry, and should be relied upon heavily in 2019.

On defense, West Virginia lost its leading tackler, David Long, to the NFL Draft. Long was everywhere for the Mountaineers, amassing 111 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He also had four pass breakups, two hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

WVU does return some good pieces in cornerback Josh Norwood and safety JoVanni Stewart. Norwood had 64 tackles, four tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Steward tallied 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four hurries and a fumble recovery.

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Way-too early prediction:Roster turnover isn’t easy to overcome, but every team in the nation goes through it. Program turnover is harder and takes much longer.

It took Campbell a year-and-a-half to get Iowa State right, Baylor Coach Matt Rhule is on year three of his rebuild and Nebraska Coach Scott Frost even had a year of sub-.500 football in his first season.

It’d be naive to think Brown will be immune to a down year, especially given all the pieces he’s lost.

I believe West Virginia will finish in the bottom three of the Big 12 and may contend with Kansas for worst team in the league.

While this is a road game for Iowa State, the Cyclones shouldn’t have too many problems handling the Mountaineers and winning by at least 10 points.

Iowa State football look ahead

Northern Iowa is back as the season-opener

Recent Cy-Hawk history doesn't tell us much about 2019

Louisiana-Monroe wraps up non-conference play

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Baylor should have explosive offense, suspect defense again

TCU game should be another matchup of strong defenses

l Comments: benv43@gmail.com

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