Was 2018 a good year for WVU football?
WHEELING — Is 8-3 a successful season?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
If that adage rings true then WVU football fans are, for the most part, disappointed in the Mountaineers’ recently concluded regular campaign.
This was expected to be the dream season for Blue & Gold fans. The cupboard was overflowing with talent and the schedule was built to win.
The Big 12 Pre-Season Media Poll projected the Sooners and Mountaineers to finish first and second, respectively. Oklahoma has lived up to its share of the hype. WVU has not.
Coach Dana Holgorsen entered the season with a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Will Grier, the best receiving corp in the nation and a rebuilt defense spiced with some blue-chip transfers.
Grier embraced the hype and performed superbly. He remains in the Heisman discussion and will be a first-round NFL Draft selection come April. A deep-pool of wideouts were prolific while Holgorsen also weaved expanded use of the tight end into this year’s attack.
The O-line was impressive, keyed by the strong play of Union Local’s Colton McKivitz and Meadowbrook’s Josh Sills, both receiving all-Big 12 honors this past week.
The defense obviously dropped the ball in a conference void of defense. WVU surrendered 97 points in its last two games, losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. The Mountaineers’ season took a turn for the worse when they allowed the then sub-.500 Cowboys to drive the field in the waning minutes to pull out 45-41 win, crushing hopes of a WVU playoff berth.
Holgorsen’s crew had one signature win, a 42-41 last-second nail-biter against Texas. None of the other seven wins came against teams that finished with winning records.
In chronological order, the Mountaineers beat Tennessee (5-7), Youngstown State (4-7) Kansas State (5-7), Texas Tech (5-7), Kansas (3-9), Baylor (6-6) and TCU (6-6).
The Oklahoma setback will jettison WVU into a second-tier of bowl games instead of playing for the Big 12 title. That triggers the question whether Grier and a host of other draft-eligible Mountaineers will play in the bowl game and risk injury or sit and preserve their health and draft stock.
The rumor mill also had Mountaineer fans wondering if they would be in the market for a new head coach. Holgorsen was mentioned in conjunction with openings at Colorado and Texas Tech. Both have since tabbed their new coaches. Morgantown is a better gig than either Boulder or Lubbock.
In December of 2016, Holgorsen inked a contract extension through 2021 for $3.6 million a year (plus bonuses). Should he leave WVU for another job before Dec. 31, he would owe WVU $2.5 million. If he would exit Morgantown after Jan. 1, he would owe $1 million.
In his seven years at WVU, he is 33-30 in Big 12 games, 10-20 vs. Top 25 foes and 2-4 in bowls.
Holgorsen will lose a great crop of players, either to the NFL or graduation. The Mountaineers’ talent level will take a big step back next fall.
Also departing is offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. He is taking over the head coaching duties at Texas State University.
The stars were aligned for a special year for WVU this fall. That configuration may not happen again for a good while in Morgantown.
It would be a safe bet that Mountaineer Nation was expecting better than a tie for third place in the Big 12.
THE SAM Andy Classic debuted last year and met with resounding success. The second annual event takes place Friday, Dec. 14 at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.
A new wrinkle has been added to the popular event. A year ago, three boys’ games were staged. This year, one girls’ game has been added to the three-game card.
It should prove a dandy with two of the premier quints in the OVAC — Bellaire and Wheeling Park — facing off at 5:15.
That will be followed at 7 p.m. when Park’s boys oppose Martins Ferry. Both teams are poised for fine seasons.
The 8:45 nightcap boys the Linsly boys against Oak Glen.
Doors open at 4:15 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students. That is a great deal for three varsity tilts.
OVAC and WVSSAC passes will be accepted.
THE HONORS continue to roll in for University of Dayton quarterback Jack Cook. The redshirt frosh, whose parents are Ohio Valley natives, has been named the 2018 Pioneer Football League’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.
The Cranberry Township, Pa., native topped all FCS freshmen in passing efficiency while also finishing third among all FCS freshmen in passing yardage (2,421) and passing touchdowns (20). Cook completed 170-of-280 passes this season while being picked off just twice. He was also the Flyers’ second-leading rusher with 421 yards and 8 more TDs.
The pass yardage total is the second-best single-season mark in UD history while the passing TDs rank third. He is one of 20 finalists for the Jerry Rice Award, which goes to the top freshman in FCS football.
Cook posted a pair of record-breaking games this season. At San Diego, he threw for a UD-record 432 yards (29-of-40) to go with 4 passing TDs and another rushing. Meanwhile, at Butler, he tied the UD record for TD passes in a game (5).
Cook is the son of Scott Cook, a former Shadyside High standout athlete, and Jennifer (Newton) Cook of Pittsburgh. Grandparents are Dr. James Newton, dean emeritus at Ohio University Eastern, and his wife Jane; and Pete and Joan Cook of Shadyside.
WEST LIBERTY’S Morgan Brunner is enjoying a great start to the season. Heading into weekend play, the former Linsly School star leads all Division II players in the nation in three-point baskets made. She has drained 30 treys in just 8 games.
THE BERRY College football team enjoyed another banner season. The Rome, Ga.-based school finished with a 10-2 mark. The Vikings advanced to the NCAA D-III Playoffs. They defeated Maryville (Tenn.), 31-0, in the opening round before losing to Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second round. Former Martins Ferry and Bethany College grid standout Rich Duncan is Berry’s offensive coordinator. Mac Wells was a starter on the Vikings’ defensive line. His dad, Jeff, was a Brooke High standout during the Bruin glory days. Mac finished the season with 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one fumble recovery.
THE STEELERS may have blown a great opportunity for home-field advantage in the playoffs with its turnover-plagued loss at Denver. The Black & Gold want no part of making a Foxboro trip in the post-season. Things, however, continue to look up for the Browns. They nailed it with draft picks Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb.
THE UNIVERSITY of North Alabama’s women’s basketball team is now off to a sparkling 7-0 start. The Lions are coached by Bellaire High and West Liberty product Missy Tiber. Her squad faces an acid test today, visiting Xavier.
BEALLSVILLE High has opted not to bring back Larry Deem as its head football coach.
CONGRATULATIONS GO out to Danny Sancomb. The former Wheeling Jesuit University head men’s hoop coach recorded his first win at the University of Cal (Pa.) Tuesday by defeating Davis & Elkins, 63-55.
FORMER WEST Liberty head men’s basketball coach Jim Crutchfield has his Nova Southeastern Sharks off to a 4-0 start. They are ranked No. 17 in NCAA D-II.
JOANNA (BERNABEI) McNamee has wasted no time in rebuilding the Boston College women’s basketball program. The former Weirton Madonna great inherited a 7-24 team. The Eagles were just 68-115 over the past six campaigns. Boston College is 6-1 this season, heading into today’s game against Columbia.
CLAY BETHEL of Martins Ferry recorded a hole-in-one Nov. 23 at Belmont Hills Country Club. Bethel aced the 100-yard par 3 No. 2 hole. He used a sand wedge. It was his third career ace and second on that hole. The shot was witnessed by Bob Bethel, TG Tsoras, Dean Miller and John Vota.