10 things we can’t wait to see the most this football season

The college football season continues to draw closer.

West Virginia’s 2022 season opener in the Backyard Brawl is just 100 days away.

Not only does this upcoming season bring the return of the Backyard Brawl, but there will also be many more exciting and interesting stories to follow.

Here are 10 things we can’t wait to see the most this fall:

10. West Virginia Natives in Key Roles

Neal Brown’s roster will be filled with Mountain State natives, and many of them will play key roles for Mountaineers this year.

It’s hard to start anywhere but the trenches when talking about West Virginia natives.

Dante Stills is back for another season, as are Zach Frazier, Wyatt Milum and Doug Nester.

Kicker Casey Legg is back for his senior season in redshirt, where he will once again be called upon to do some big kicking.

Beyond those five WVs, four more will have larger roles this year, though those roles remain undefined.

Three are graduates of Morgantown High School: Caden Biser, Nick Malone and Preston Fox.

Fox showed up in the Gold-Blue Spring Game and did take after take to wow the Mountaineer faithful. He even earned a SportsCenter Top 10 spot for a one-handed catch and earned a scholarship from Neal Brown after the showcase.

Malone also made great strides and won the coveted Nickolich Award, which is given annually to the best extra on the team. Biser should also see an increase in playing time this year as well.

Additionally, Cincinnati transfer Zeiqui Lawton will be called upon to add depth on the defensive line.

9. Can the defense stay strong again?

Statistically, West Virginia’s defense has been one of the best units in the Big 12 each of the past two seasons.

In 2021, the WVU defense ranked No. 11 in the NCAA in red zone defense, No. 14 in first down defense and was among the nation’s top 35 groups in third down defense, the least of penalties and rushed defence.

Additionally, over the past three seasons, WVU has held opposing teams within 250 yards passing 26 times, within 200 yards 16 times, and within 150 yards nine times.

WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley coaches some of his players during spring football training in 2022. (Photo: Anjelica Trinone)

There’s been a noticeable change in the secondary, but WVU safety coach Dontae Wright is “excited” about the progress of his squad and defensive backs as a whole. Charles Woods is back to lead WVU defensive backs, while a host of new additions add plenty of intrigue to the unit ahead of the season.

Once again, the defensive line should be one of the strongest units in West Virginia this year. Led by the aforementioned Stills (more on him in a bit), three of WVU’s top four sack-getters will return with the Mountaineers, including Taijh Alston, who took a massive leap in his first full, injury-free season. with the Mountaineers. .

8. Key Transfer Portal Additions

Brown and his coaching staff have been busy adding players through the transfer portal.

The most notable of these additions is incoming quarterback JT Daniels, who comes from Georgia to WVU.

Besides the signalman, arguably the most talked-about newcomer is transfer linebacker Lee Kpogba, who is expected to play one of the most important positions in the defense, linebacker Mike.

Two other key additions to the defensive side of football are safety Hersey McLaurin and corner Marcis Floyd.

On offense, redshirt senior running back Lyn-J Dixon joins a running back room that would be full of home hitters. Also joining the offense is tight end Brian Polendey.

7. Three Thursday Night Games

Thursday night games are back!

Once a staple of the WVU football schedule during the Big East days, the Mountaineers will play not one, not two, but three Thursday night games this season.

West Virginia starts the year on a Thursday night, in the spotlight against its fiercest rival – a game we’ll talk about later in this article.

Three weeks after that game, the Mountaineers will defend the Black Diamond Trophy when they travel to Blacksburg, Va. to face Virginia Tech on September 22.

Three weeks later, the Baylor Bears will come to Morgantown for a Thursday night contest.

Interestingly enough, West Virginia’s Oct. 13 game against Baylor will be the Mountaineers’ first prime-time home game under Neal Brown.

6. Oklahoma’s final regular season stop at Morgantown

Continuing to watch the calendar, two things will likely happen for the last time this year.

The first is Oklahoma’s final regular season stop at Morgantown. The other is West Virginia’s final regular season trip to Austin to face the Longhorns.

Texas and Oklahoma are heading to the SEC in the near future.

Although the release date for the two Big 12 programs is not set in stone, it is expected that they will no longer be present at the conference after the 2023-2024 academic year. Other reports indicate that they could both disappear after this coming year.

That means this will likely be the Sooners’ last trip to Puskar Stadium in Milan, and WVU’s last trip to Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, in the regular season as conference opponents.

WVU’s Jackie Matthews defends Braxton Burmeister’s final pass to Tre Turner to seal West Virginia’s win over No. 15 Virginia Tech at Puskar Stadium in Milan on September 18, 2021. (Photo: Tanner Halstead)

5. Defend the Black Diamond Trophy

For the first time since 2004, the Mountaineers will defend the Black Diamond Trophy.

In the first meeting between the two programs since 2017, West Virginia defeated No. 15 Virginia Tech 27-21 in Morgantown last fall.

This time around, the Hokies will host a WVU team aiming to retain the trophy.

West Virginia leads the all-time series 29-23-1 and is looking to win back-to-back games against Virginia Tech for the first time since 2002-03.

4. A new starting quarterback

One thing is certain as this season approaches: the Mountaineers will have a new starting quarterback in Septe. 1 roll.

Three of the four quarterbacks in this competition were on the field at the Gold-Blue Spring Game last month. The newest addition to the quarterback battle is Georgia transfer JT Daniels.

Daniels has the most collegiate experience of the four, with redshirt second Garrett Greene the only other quarterback on the roster with multiple games under his belt.

Redshirt freshman Will “Goose” Crowder appeared in a game last fall, and real-life freshman Nicco Marchiol had just finished his high school football career when the Mountaineers played their final game last fall. last season.

The four quarterbacks not only have different levels of experience, but also very different skill sets.

Crowder showed real arm talent and leadership skills in the Gold-Blue Spring Game, opening it with a 75-yard touchdown in four games. He added a touchdown pass later in the first half to a wide-open Sam James as he led the passing stat sheet in the hot Saturday.

Greene is best known for his feet, showing real quickness on some spells in 2021. He wasn’t as successful as Crowder in the spring game but finished with 132 passing yards.

Marchiol is one of the most highly anticipated high school prospects in recent memory, and he shows quite a bit of running and passing prowess. He threw for 75 yards and added a touchdown with his feet in the first half.

The presumed favorite, however, is Daniels, the man with the most college experience. The former five-star recruit was considered an elite arm talent out of high school and once threw for 32 Division I touchdowns, but injuries prevented him from unleashing his full potential.

3. Graham Harrell’s Attack

The new OC showed off some of his attacking abilities in the spring game. And if the Gold-Blue play was any indication, there’s one thing to expect from the offense: downward shots.

WVU offensive coordinator Graham Harrell watches his offense during spring training 2022. (Photo: Nick Farrell)

Harrell’s success as a player and coach is well documented. He graduated from Texas Tech as one of the most prolific passers in college football history, throwing for 15,793 yards, 134 touchdowns and 34 interceptions for the Red Raiders under Mike Leach. Texas Tech went 2-1 in the bowls with Harrell at quarterback and won a bid for the 2009 Cotton Bowl.

As a coach, his offense has been one of the best in the Pac-12 Conference in each of the last two seasons with USC.

Can he bring the same success to the Mountaineers?

2. Dante Stills’ final season with the Mountaineers

True son of the Mountaineers, Dante Stills announced his return to the program in January for one more run in the Old Gold and Blue.

This decision might come as a bit of a surprise to fans — or even Stills himself. A highly touted prospect in the Class of 2018, Stills originally planned to try his luck in the NFL after just three seasons. However, as the 2022 season approaches, he is preparing for his fifth season as a mountaineer.

Stills has been one of WVU’s top producers on defense over the past two seasons, picking up where his brother Darius left off. The former Freshman All-American led the Mountaineers in sacks the previous two seasons, and the 19 he had in his career ranks sixth all-time.

In 2021, Stills racked up a career-high 36 tackles and seven sacks while notching his first interception. It was good enough to earn first-team All-Big 12 academic honors.

At the start of 2022, Stills will sit seven sacks behind his dad, Gary, while wearing the same jersey number, No. 55. Could the former polar bear climb to claim his dad’s No. 2 spot? in the record books?

1. Backyard Brawl Returns

College football’s best rivalry returns.

West Virginia will face its arch-rival on the gridiron for the first time since 2011 when it takes the trip down I-79 to take on Pitt on Sept. 1.

Although Pittsburgh has the all-time series advantage, the Mountaineers have won 15 of the last 22 meetings, dating back to 1990. WVU is also 3-2 against Pitt at Heinz Field since the Panthers started playing their home matches.

Even beyond the return of heated rivalry, this year’s reunion has some interesting stories, especially at quarterback. Pitt star Kenny Pickett was recently drafted by the Steelers, forcing the Panthers to look to a move to Kedon Slovis to take the reins in 2022.

Ironically, Slovis and possible WVU starter JT Daniels have a history. Slovis was Daniels’ replacement at USC in 2019 under Graham Harrell. Daniels, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending injury, opening up the job for Slovis and triggering Daniels’ eventual move to Georgia.

Three years later, the former teammates will stand on the rival sideline to open the season, while Daniels has support from Harrell’s attack.

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