Kansas State Wildcats football Big 12 West Virginia Neal Brown JT Daniels Chris Klieman Adrian Martinez Dante Stills

GET TO KNOW THE MOUNTAINEEERS

2021 records: 6-7 (4-5)
Big 12 Standings: Fifth (Tie)
Best wins: Iowa State (7-6, FEI/SP+ No. 16), Texas (5-7, FEI/SP+ No. 40), Virginia Tech (6-7, FEI/SP+ No. 72), TCU (5-7, FEI/SP+ No. 83)
Notable losses: They lost 18-6 to Minnesota (9-4) in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, 16-13 to Oklahoma and 23-20 to Texas Tech.
Head Coach: Neal Brown. He enters his fourth season in Morgantown with a 17-18 record, while being 11-15 in the Big 12 with two bowl appearances. Brown was previously the head coach at Troy, where he compiled a 35-16 record over four seasons with three bowl wins. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for both Kentucky and Texas Tech.

JT Daniels (Getty)

THE NUMBERS

The Mountaineers finished 2021 by ranking No. 70 in the final FEI/SP+ tabulations, which accounted for being No. 73 on offense, No. 44 on defense and No. 114 on special teams. They won four of their final six Big 12 games to earn a bowl bid.

Their defense was solid. It ranked No. 37 in total yards allowed (350.1 yards per game), No. 65 in success rate allowed (42.4 percent), No. 45 in scoring defense (23.8 points per game) and No. 66 in points per drive allowed (2.21).

West Virginia’s rush defense finished No. 42 in yards allowed (138.5 yards per game) and No. 53 rushing success rate allowed (42.2 percent). For passing yards, the Mountaineers finished No. 39 (211.5 yards per game), No. 78 in pass efficiency defense and No. 81 in pass success rate allowed.

Third down defense ranked No. 29 (34.7 percent), red zone defense finished No. 5 (70.0 percent) and they finished No. 16 in points per drive allowed inside their 40 (3.18). The Mountaineers also finished at No. 88 in havoc rate (16.2 percent).

The offense finished No. 88 in total yards (371.3 yards per game), No. 62 in success rate (43.2 percent), No. 88 in scoring offense (25.2 points per game) and No. 78 in points per drive (2.02).

They were No. 56 in passing yards (247.9 yards per game), No. 73 in passing efficiency and No. 68 in passing success rate. The rush offense was No. 102 in yards (123.4 yards per game) and No. 52 in rushing success rate (45.3 percent). They ran only 44.7 percent of the time.

West Virginia was No. 68 in third down conversions (39.8 percent), No. 18 in red zone conversions (90.0 percent) and No. 39 in points per drive inside the opponents’ 40 (4.19).

The special teams was led by a field goal efficiency that ranked No. 45 in America, but they were poor at everything else. The kickoff return unit ranked No. 70, the punt coverage ranked No. 92, the punt return unit was No. 123 and the kickoff coverage was No. 129.

Charles Woods

Charles Woods (Getty)

The Mountaineers were picked eighth in the Big 12 by the media. The preseason SP+ ranks them at No. 75, and that consists of being No. 71 on offense and No. 81 on defense.

In terms of returning production, they rank #111. That is drawn from being No. 116 on offense and No. 81 on defense.

West Virginia lost some leaders from the 2021 offense. That includes quarterback Jarrett Doegerunning back Leddie Brown and wideout Winston Wright. However, they added a signal-caller with experience at two different Power Five programs and a pair of junior college receivers that should make an immediate impact.

Additionally, the Mountaineers have one of the best returning offensive line groups in the league.

On defense, the top five tacklers and six of the top seven have left what was a solid group a year ago, and that meant saying goodbye to four honorable mention All-Big 12 players.

However, one of the Stills brothers still remains in Morgantown and West Virginia brought in a bunch of transfers to fill the gaps.

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell begins for the Mountaineers after three seasons at USC where he led a pair of top-20 offenses. Co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley is in his fourth year at West Virginia and third as defensive coordinator after following Neal Brown from Troy.

The other defensive coordinator ShaDon Brown is in his second year after previously coaching at Louisville.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton

Bryce Ford-Wheaton (Getty)

KEY RETURNS

OFFENSE

1. WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton (6-3/224): 2021 honorable mention All-Big 12. Ford-Wheaton was the second-leading receiver last year and finished with 42 catches, 575 yards and three touchdowns.

2. RB Tony Mathis (5-11/207): Mathis ran for 312 yards on 72 carries last year. He also caught seven balls for 29 yards.

3. RB Justin Johnson (5-11/198): Johnson had 24 carries for 90 yards in 2021.

4. WR Sam James (6-0/176): James caught 42 balls for 505 yards and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns with five.

5. OL Zach Frazier (6-3/306): Preseason All-Big 12 and a 2021 second team All-Big 12 choice. Frazier has 22 starts in two seasons and leads a talented group with plenty of returning experience.

DEFENSE

1. DE Dante Stills (6-4/285): Preseason All-Big 12 and a 2021 first team All-Big 12 pick. Stills led West Virginia in tackles for loss with 15 and sacks with seven. He also finished with 36 tackles.

2. CB Charles Woods (5-11/193): Preseason All-Big 12. The former FCS transfer had four passes broken up, two interceptions and 29 tackles last season.

3. DE Taijh Alston (6-4/255): Alston was second on the team with 11 tackles for loss and five sacks last year. He also had 36 tackles.

4. LB Jared Bartlett (6-2/235): Bartlett finished 2021 with 31 tackles and six for loss, plus 3.5 sacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. K Casey Legg: Preseason All-Big 12. He made all 35 extra points and was 19 of 23 on his field goals, including 13 straight during one stretch in 2021.

Dante Stills

Dante Stills (Getty)

KEY ADDITIONS

OFFENSE

1. QB JT Daniels (6-2/226): Daniels spent the last two years at Georgia and threw for 1,953 yards, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Before that, he was at USC and threw for 2,672 yards, 14 scores and 10 interceptions as a freshman.

2. WR Cortez Braham (6-2/198): The junior college transfer from Hutchinson Community College caught 32 balls for 723 yards, and 10 scores last year.

3. WR Jeremiah Aaron (5-10/186): Aaron is also a junior college transfer and came to Morgantown from Navarro Community College. He had 49 catches for 911 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

DEFENSE

1. LB Jasir Cox (6-1/204): The North Dakota State transfer tallied 110 tackles, seven for loss, three sacks, three interceptions and broke up 10 passes in helping the Bison win the 2021 FCS national championship.

2. CB Marcus Floyd (6-0/194): A Murray State transfer, Floyd finished 2021 with 40 tackles, four for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and had nine passes broken up in earning FCS All-American status.

3. LB Lee Kpogba (6-1/230): He spent 2021 in the junior college ranks and finished with 84 tackles, 5.5 for loss, collected two sacks and recorded an interception at East Mississippi Community College. Kpogba also spent a pair of seasons at Syracuse.

4. CB Rashad Ajayi (5-11/182): In four seasons at Colorado State, Ajayi had 76 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, a sack and an interception.

Chris Klieman

Chris Klieman (Kansas State Athletics)

PREDICTIONS

FAN: Kansas State wins if…

The Wildcats don’t slip up in a place they have lost three straight games. K-State broke a frustrating five-game losing streak to the Mountaineers last year, but they still haven’t won in Morgantown since 2014.

Unless West Virginia hits on most of their transfers, there could be some serious heat on Neal Brown with the team fighting to make a bowl game this late in the season. Still, if Kansas State wants to be a contender for Arlington, it is a game that they have to win.

Prediction: Kansas State 29, West Virginia 17

DY: Kansas State wins if…

They arrive in Morgantown with something to prove. Assuming the season unfolds the way I have projected to date, the Wildcats are sitting 8-2 and fresh off a narrow loss to Baylor in Waco.

They’re agitated and playing with anger and ready to avenge last week’s loss. Meanwhile, it is the end of the year for West Virginia and that makes it more likely that JT Daniels is not available anymore.

Remember, he does not have any signs of durability whatsoever in his career. And without him at the helm, it is difficult to like what the Mountaineers have to provide on the field. They’re likely unraveling at this point of the season.

My thinking is that West Virginia suffers a brutal home loss and it could mean curtains for Neal Brown’s tenure with the program.

Prediction: Kansas State 37, West Virginia 13

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