MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On a day where the race for the Big 12 Conference football championship was not necessarily the main topic of conversation, WVU head coach Neal Brown offered his vote of confidence on the direction of the Big 12. Brown was one of five head coaches to step up to the microphones at Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas.
“I think some things over the last few weeks have created a great opportunity for our league. From a West Virginia perspective, we are maybe a little bit different from some other schools. We have played in multiple leagues over the last 50-75 years. We even have been an independent. The one constant is that West Virginia football has always been successful and has always found a way to make it work,” Brown said.
“From a long-term perspective, I have great faith that West Virginia football is going to be just fine. In the short-term, I like the direction and I think we have some unique opportunities. I think the leadership in our conference has made some really good decisions with the additions. I have strong belief that they will continue to do so.”
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) July 13, 2022
For the second year in a row, West Virginia will open the season on the road at a traditional rival. The Mountaineers visit Pittsburgh on September 1 in the first of two road games against ACC opponents. WVU will also visit Virginia Tech on September 22.
“We are the premier ‘Power 5’ game vs. ‘Power 5’ opponent on Thursday night. Our guys are excited. It has been a great carrot for our guys as we have gone through the winter. through spring ball and now through summer workouts to know that we have not only a game to look forward to, but it is a rivalry game that is going to be in prime time,” Brown said.
“We play a tough schedule and that has been well-documented. The two non-conference games, rivalry games, they are both on the road. We have eleven ‘Power 5’ opponents and a great schedule here in the Big 12. It is going to be a challenge for us.”
Over the last three seasons, West Virginia’s defense has been ahead of their offense in Big 12 statistical rankings. Brown believes despite notable losses to graduation and the transfer portal that this year’s defense can excel.
“We think this defensive unit has the opportunity to be the best that we have fielded so far. We are never going to lose what makes West Virginia special — that is a toughness. We really try to mirror the mindset of our state. At West Virginia, it is a blue collar group that goes to work and is really proud of their heritage. That’s the same fundamentals we are trying to look for and put on the field,” Brown said.
“It is a group that has had unique paths. If you look at Lee Kpogba, who came in for spring ball and will be our starting mike linebacker, not a traditional path but here he is. I think he has a chance to be one of the better linebackers in our league. You look at Charles Woods who is representing us today, he is an FCS All-American who made the jump to ‘Power 5’ football. He had the leading coverage numbers in our league according to PFF [Pro Football Focus] data last year.”
All three starting safeties and several other key contributors in the secondary must be replaced. Brown and his coaching staff targeted a number of transfers with starting experience for immediate help.
“Wesley McCormick, who was a multi-year starter at James Madison at corner, I really like his ability. We think he has an opportunity to compete for the starting job. Jaylon Shelton has versatility. He can play safety or corner and he can really run. Jasir Cox comes from North Dakota State. He is a multiple national champion and multiple year starter. He gives us some flexibility to play both outside linebacker positions and our nickel position. We added Rashad Ajayi from Colorado State, who started 35 games. We have been able to add some guys like Marcis Floyd from Murray State. He was with us in the spring. When we looked it at, we wanted to be more athletic. We wanted guys that had experience starting and they all have.”