Brown era set to begin at West Virginia
MORGANTOWN — The Neal Brown Era begins at West Virginia.
The former Troy University coach begins his first season in charge of the Mountaineers, taking over for Dana Holgorsen, who left after nine seasons to take the job at the University of Houston.
Brown complied a 35-16 record with the Trojans during his four seasons in charge, including 3-0 in bowl games. He is one of six FBS coaches to win 10 or more games the last three years.
But while there is a lot of excitement of what many analysts called a “home run hire,” Brown takes over a West Virginia program in transition, more than just in the coaching staff.
The Mountaineers will be one of the most inexperienced teams in the Big 12 this season. West Virginia was recently predicted to finish eighth in the 10-team conference, as voted on by media representatives.
“We’re young, very inexperienced,” Brown said at Big 12 Media Days in July. “What we look like in the fall, I’m not sure of. I’m really not. We’ve only had 15 practices. But I do like our guys. They’re hungry and very humble. It’s going to be a fun group.”
Most any coach will tell you that you can’t win without a good offensive line.
And West Virginia won’t be lacking in that area.
The Mountaineers will be led by four-year starter and former Union Local product Colton McKivitz.
The 6-foot-7, 312-pounder started 12 games at right tackle last season and will move over to the left side this year, taking over for Yodney Cajuste, who was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the New England Patriots.
McKivitz is the lone Mountaineers player selected on the preseason All-Big 12 team.
Joining him in the trenches is another OVAC product in Meadowbrook’s Josh Sills at right guard.
The 6-6, 326-pound redshirt junior is a two-year starter at guard and was named All-Big 12 second team by the coaches in 2018.
Both McKivitz and Sills were named to the Outland Trophy watch list.
The rest of the line will be made up of center Chase Behrndt, right tackle Kelby Wickline and left guard Michael Brown.
Junior Ubezu, James Gmiter, Adam Stilley, Blain Scott and John Hughes are the backups.
Who they will be protecting is a different story.
Gone is record-setting quarterback Will Grier.
The two-year starter for the Mountaineers was drafted in the third round by his hometown Carolina Panthers after throwing for 3,864 yards, 37 touchdowns and a 67 percent completion percentage. He was named second team All-Big 12.
The battle to who will start under center Saturday against James Madison will come down to junior Jack Allison or Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall.
The backs up are redshirt freshman Trey Lowe III and Bowling Green transfer Jarrett Doege.
Kennedy McCoy was the team’s leading rusher with 802 yards on 145 carries (5.5 per carry) and a team-leading eight touchdowns. He rushed for a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns in a loss at Oklahoma State last season.
He also added 17 catches for 224 yards and a score.
McCoy will be pushed for the starting job by Martell Pettaway. The senior rushed for 623 yards on 97 carries (6.4 per carry) and six touchdowns.
Sophomore Leddie Brown will also see some carries.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will have a group of receivers that have yet to make a dent at the next level.
Gone the NFL are David Sills (Buffalo Bills), Gary Jennings (Seattle Seahawks) and tight end Trevon Wesco (New York Jets).
Marcus Simms was expected to be a starter this season, but ran into legal trouble and declared for the NFL supplemental draft. He is in camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That leaves WVU with two receivers that caught more than two passes last year — T.J. Simmons (28 for 341 and a touchdown) and Tevin Bush (14 for 209 and a TD).
Along with Simmons and Bush, Bryce Wheaton, Sam James, Randy Fields and transfers Sean Ryan (Temple) and George Campbell (Florida State) will look to break the starting lineup.
The Mountaineers defense will be largely unknown with Darius Stills one of the main returning players.
He will be joined as a starter on the defensive line with Taijh Alston and Reese Donahue. Stills’ brother Dante, a former first team all-stater at Fairmont Senior, will be one of the backups.
Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan will play the bandit position.
The starting linebackers will be led by Bridgeport (W.Va) product Dylan Tonkery, Josh Chandler and Hakeem Bailey.
Josh Norwood and Keith Washington are the front-runners to be the starting corners, while Sean Mahone, Jake Long, Osita Smith, Tykee Smith and Jovanni Stewart could be in the mix at safety.
The team’s projected starting safeties Derek Pitts and Kenny Washington entered the transfer portal. Pitts wound up at Marshall.
Evan Staley is the kicker.