As we all know, Dana Holgorsen left West Virginia for Houston after a disagreement between him and the athletic department. In his place comes Neal Brown, the former head coach at Troy University from 2015-2018. Brown had originally been an offensive coordinator at Troy, Texas Tech, and Kentucky before landing his first head coach position. Born and raised in a small Kentucky town, Brown was a local star in football, basketball, and baseball. He played football at the University of Kentucky under the then head coach Hal Mumme, the known godfather of the air raid offense.
Brown got his first coaching gig at Umass, as he served as a graduate assistant. He then got to move to Troy to work under Tony Franklin. Brown would go on to be moved up to offensive coordinator as Tony Franklin left for Auburn after the 2007 season. That was where Brown truly gets his first start. After a few stops, he gets his first major head coaching job at West Virginia University, where the expectations coming into the season are low from all of the turnover. We are going to look at five reasons why Neal Brown and this West Virginia team might surprise the Big 12, and maybe the nation in 2019.
1. Austin Kendall
Austin Kendall might be the most important reason why this team will exceed expectations, a transfer from Oklahoma who sat behind two quarterback Heisman Trophy winners. Kendall decided to come to WVU for the opportunity to show what he can actually do. With a very strong arm, he is more mobile than what he gets credit for. Shaking off the rust of being a backup might hit Kendall to begin the season, but once he starts to get in a rhythm, he will be really good under Neal Brown. Mountaineer fans should be really happy they got him and excited about what he will bring for the next few seasons to Morgantown.
2. Favorable Schedule
Yes, West Virginia is 1 out of only 3 FBS teams to play 11 games against other P5 schools this year. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing because of the home/away mixture. Home games for West Virginia this year include: James Madison, NC State, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State, in that order. West Virginia’s away schedule consists of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State, and TCU, in that order. As a Big 12 school, you always want to play Kansas on the road which allows another school more talented to be at home.
All of the home games are winnable games for West Virginia, as well as some of the away games are against non-playoff caliber teams. The only away game which could spell disaster for WVU is Oklahoma. All of these other games are very winnable, even on the road. If West Virginia can protect their home field, or even win 4-6 of the games, that will set them up for a nice bowl game. If they can just win 3-6 away games, that will put them at around 8 or so wins, which is exceeding expectations for this team.
3. Inexperienced, yet talented
The question around West Virginia is if this team will lack too much experience to win many games this season? That might be true to a certain extent, but the talent is there in Morgantown. Many players have transferred in from schools such as Oklahoma, Florida State, Michigan, Temple, etc, all looking for a fresh start. These players include QB Austin Kendall (OU), WR George Campbell (FSU), DL Reuben Jones (Michigan), and WR Sean Ryan (Temple). These were all talented players coming out of high school, along with the current Mountaineers returning this season. Once these players and the returning players gain more experience with each game and are able to work together, watch out for this team to look completely different as the year goes on.
4. Winning Pedigree
The little time Brown has been a head coach, he has proven to be a winner. Brown spent 4 seasons at Troy compiling a record of 35-16 (23-9) during that tenure. The first season was a rocky start going 4-8. However, the following three seasons, Brown’s teams won at least 10 games and went 3-0 in bowl games. If one is a winner, one is a winner. It doesn’t necessarily matter where you won at. The fact is that Neal Brown is a proven winner in his short time as a collegiate head coach.
Anybody who knows and understands how successful teams in any sports have their success, know that the culture has a lot to do with it. Coach Neal Brown has instilled a family-like culture in Morgantown right from the start. Everything from position dinners to yard games such as corn hole have been going on since he arrived. This Mountaineers team may have some inexperience at spots, but they certainly won’t lack trust in one another.