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Big 12 Storyline 2020: West Virginia has the potential to be conference’s sleeper team

The Oklahoma Sooners have an opportunity to win their sixth consecutive Big 12 championship. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are loaded with their own rendition of star power in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. But maybe this is the Texas Longhorns’ year after all.

From coaching to quarterback play, the Big 12’s intriguing storylines are worth monitoring. Most of the conference’s teams are expected to improve at the quarterback position, as 70 percent of the league’s starting quarterbacks return this season. Of the three teams that don’t return a starting quarterback, the Texas Tech Red Raiders brings back a healthy Alan Bowman and – *drum roll* – the Spencer Rattler era is set to begin in Norman.

With Matt Rhule out and Dave Aranda for the Baylor Bears, now half of the league’s coaches are in their first or second-year as head coach, making fourth-year Tom Herman a wise man of sorts.

Those are just a few of the most exciting narratives at play. Let’s get into it.

We’ll continue with … the transitioning programs.

West Virginia Mountaineers

It’s year two of the Neal Brown era — after averaging 2.6 yards per carry on the ground last season, can the Mountaineers run the ball effectively enough to balance out the run-pass game in their offense?

Year one of the Neal Brown era was tough sledding (literally) with a roster full of Dana Holgorsen players. West Virginia finished the season ranked at the bottom of the FBS (No. 128) in rushing offense. It can’t possibly be any worse than that this season.

To be fair to Brown, West Virginia experienced a complete reset on offense in 2019. He was left with no true starting quarterback and a depleted offensive line unit.

Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall started the first nine games at quarterback. Due to shaky results, he eventually gave way to fellow Bowling Green transfer Jarrett Doege.

Doege helped provide a late-season spark for the Mountaineers. They won road games at both Kansas State and TCU with him at quarterback. Considering how well he played to finish the year, Doege is likely to get the starting nod at quarterback to open this season.

It was a tale of two halves for the Mountaineers defense last season. After giving up 38 points or more against four of their first seven opponents, West Virginia turned it up down the stretch. They allowed just 22.4 points per game against Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU to close out the season.

It starts with the play up front. With the Stills brothers back, West Virginia’s defense has potential to be one of the Big 12’s best in 2020. Darius and Dante Stills combined for 14 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss last season. Once again, the Mountaineers will be a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line with these two leading the charge.

If their offense improves and is consistent enough, watch out for West Virginia as a Big 12 sleeper team in 2020.

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