MORGANTOWN, W.Va.(John Antonik /WVUSports)—For many years, West Virginia’s best football seasons were usually the ones that were unexpected by the outsiders.
Take 1993, for instance. Does anyone recall where the Mountaineers were picked to finish in the eight-team Big East that year?
If you answered first, second or third you would be wrong.
It was fourth.
West Virginia actually got one spot higher than that in the national polls after knocking off 11th-ranked Boston College in Chestnut Hill to conclude the regular season as undefeated Big East champions.
There were many other seasons similar to that when outside expectations were low and West Virginia overachieved.
Nearly every year since 2012 when WVU joined the Big 12, it has finished the season higher than its preseason pick, and odds are high that is going to happen once again in 2020.
College football preseason magazines are beginning to hit newsstands this summer and the first two in circulation, Athlon Sports and Street & Smith’s, are somewhat ambivalent toward coach Neal Brown’s second Mountaineer football team.
Street & Smith’s has WVU tabbed for an eighth-place finish in the Big 12 with the Stills brothers, Darius and Dante, the only WVU players on its preseason All-Big 12 team.
This is what Kansas City Star’s Blair Kerkhoff had to say about Brown’s first season at West Virginia – “Everybody understood 2019 would be a transition year at West Virginia under first-year coach Neal Brown. So it was, and one that left a good feeling at the end.
“The Mountaineers won two of their final three games, including an impressive triumph at Kansas State. The success coincided with a switch in quarterback from Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall to Jarret Doege,” he wrote.
Kerkhoff added, “Defense was further along than offense in 2019 and that appears to be the case headed into this season.”
Athlon, the other magazine currently on newsstands, has much more to offer on the 2020 Mountaineers. It has West Virginia 56th in its preseason national rankings and eighth in the Big 12.
Darius and Dante StillsDefensive lineman Darius Stills was named third team All-America and first team All-Big 12.
Younger brother Dante was listed on Athlon’s All-Big 12 second team as part of a defensive line unit ranked fourth in the Big 12.
Sophomore wide receiver Sam James was also a preseason second team pick.
Brown’s first recruiting class was rated fourth-best in the Big 12 with his top-ranked recruit, cornerback David Vincent-Okoli, listed 26th among the top 40 incoming players in the Big 12.
Quarterback Garrett Greene was rated 43rd nationally at his position.
Overall, Brown’s first recruiting haul was ranked 37th.
And there was this about the Mountaineers from an anonymous coach - “Neal did a really, really underrated job of getting buy-in from the roster. He’s young, but he has a lot of experience as a head coach at Troy, and that really showed,” he said. “They didn’t reject change; they rallied. They were in a lot of close games, and they finished with two road wins.
“Coaches love to build on stuff like that, so I know they’re excited. They think they’re headed in the right direction …”
The anonymous coach added, “There are holes everywhere; this was a really, really thin roster (and) that makes what Neal’s done so far really impressive,” he said. “They want to be blue-collar; they want to be disciplined. That’s their plan to close the gaps for now.
“They need a few years of recruiting, but this coaching staff really understands how to work the unique problems that come with this job.”
Year one for Brown at Troy in 2015 saw his Trojans struggle to a 4-8 record.
One year later, his team won 10 games and outlasted Ohio University in the Dollar General Bowl. One of Troy’s three defeats that season was a 30-24 loss at No. 2 Clemson in week two.
Will Brown repeat history once again at West Virginia in 2020?