https://www.wvgazettemail.com/sports/columnists/tom_bragg/tom-bragg-wvu-s-neal-brown-adamant-we-absolutely-will/article_a1eb2546-d4d5-597f-9b3f-0906d20587b6.html

Going into the 2019 College Football season, Mountaineer fans knew that their program was in for a rebuild. Replacing a head coach and loads of NFL talent on offense is never easy, especially when it is done at the same time. First year Head Coach Neal Brown was able to navigate the Mountaineers through a daunting schedule and finish the season with a respectable 5-7 record. While there were many things on the field that fans can voice their displeasure about, the fact remains that the future is shining bright for the Mountaineers. Inexperienced players now have experience, Coach Brown’s system has now been in place for a whole season, and the team appears to have found their quarterback. Factor it all in with a 2020 schedule that includes seven home contests and only four true road games, the Old Gold and Blue could be in business for a significant “climb” sooner than expected.

One of the most crucial parts of how much success a team endures over the course of a season is based on how their schedule is stacked up. For the Mountaineers, the luck of the draw could be in their favor next fall. Opening the season against a program with the prestige of Florida State is never easy, but West Virginia just may catch them at the perfect time. The Seminoles will be at the beginning of their own rebuild with Mike Norvell entering his first season in Tallahassee. Follow that with three straight home games against FCS foe Eastern Kentucky, rival Maryland, and Big 12 opponent Kansas State, West Virginia could potentially exit September at 4-0. Looming for WVU in October will be two road contests against Texas Tech and Texas, and two road contests against TCU and Kansas. All of which are winnable games. The good guys will close out the season in November with two more road games against Oklahoma State and Iowa State, and two more home games against Oklahoma and Baylor. This sets up well for the Mountaineers as they will get the top two teams in the Big 12 in Morgantown. While it is much easier said than done, this schedule will provide more opportunity for second year Head Coach Neal Brown than did the 2019 schedule.

A main point of struggle for the Mountaineers in 2019 came on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Austin Kendall never appeared to be comfortable in the offense, often underthrowing receivers and leaving much to be desired on the field. It was a topic of debate for the entire season whether Kendall was actually the right quarterback to start the “climb” under Coach Brown. The quarterback problem finally appeared to have been solved after Kendall was benched in favor of Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege in a November 16 matchup against Kansas State. Doege would lead West Virginia to a 24-20 upset over the nationally ranked Wildcats and would go on to start the last quarter of the season, compiling a 2-1 record. An offense that once seemed dead now had life with the injection of a new signal caller. This could be a sign of things to come for Doege and the offense going into 2020, giving Mountaineer fans even more of a reason to be optimistic moving forward.

Inexperience on defense is something that no program ever wants to deal with. West Virginia dealt with it in loads throughout the 2019 season. Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning was forced to play more true freshmen than any coach in college football would want to. Though it came with its growing pains, this could be another crucial setup for the 2020 season. Players like Kerry Martin Jr. and Tykee Smith, who anchored the secondary for the Mountaineers as true freshmen last season, now have experience playing “big time” college football. Both made critical plays for the team throughout the season and will in all likelihood continue to do so throughout the rest of their college careers. Along with Smith and Martin, players like Josh Chandler, Noah Guzman and Sean Mahone all received valuable playing time that they can build on in the future. Game experience is crucial in the development of a player, and the Mountaineer defense now has plenty of it to “climb” on ‘moving into the 2020 season.

It is never a given that a team will exceed expectations going into a season. While West Virginia will not be expected to sink to the lows of 2019, they will not necessarily be expected to set the world on fire in 2020 either. Though with the favorable schedule, new life on offense, and now the experience to compete on defense, 2020 could be a season to remember for the Mountaineers. Saying that a program will take such a giant leap forward in just the second year of a new regime can be seen as very bold, but in this case it is very possible. Neal Brown has shown in his career that he is fast in the rebuild process. After going 4-8 in his first season with the Troy Trojans in 2015, he turned right around and lead them to a 10-3 record and a bowl victory in 2016. Who is to say he cannot do the same with West Virginia? The 2019 season may have been an all out struggle for many fans of the Old Gold and Blue, but the future is too bright not to buy in to what Neal Brown is building in Morgantown. The “1.8 million strong” must continue to “Trust the Climb” because the heights that the Mountaineers are about to reach are as beautiful as the mountain tops all across the state of West Virginia.

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