The 2021 football season is still a few months away but that won't stop us from getting a head start on the third year under head coach Neal Brown. Today, I go through my three bold predictions for the upcoming season.
Leddie Brown will be Big 12 rushing champ
For the first time since Wendell Smallwood in 2015, a West Virginia running back will lead the Big 12 Conference in rushing yards. Leddie Brown had a big breakout season in 2020 rushing for 1,010 yards in just ten games. Now with one year under his belt of being the featured back, Brown will take his game to the next level. To be the leading rusher in the conference, it's going to be a guy who gets a lot of opportunities to carry the ball, can stay healthy, and has the ability to hit for big chunks of yardage. Brown checks all three boxes. West Virginia is thin in terms of experience at running back once again and with Jarret Doege's documented struggles, the Mountaineer offense will run through Brown.
Others such as Breece Hall (Iowa State), Bijan Robinson (Texas), Zach Evans (TCU), and Deuce Vaughn (Kansas State) will be in the running, no pun intended, but it'll be Leddie Brown who tops the league in rushing yards at season's end.
Winston Wright Jr. goes for 1,000 yards
If the spring game was any indication, head coach Neal Brown is going to do everything he can to get the ball into the hands of his best playmaker in space - Winston Wright Jr. Not only can he make defenders miss in the open field but he can also beat defensive backs on deep balls due to his blazing speed. The Mountaineers haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver yet under Neal Brown but I expect Wright Jr. to be the first. Last season, Wright hauled in 47 receptions for 533 yards and two touchdowns. Since he will likely see a large increase in targets, each of those numbers should go up in 2021.
Defense finishes in top 10 nationally for 2nd straight year
Sure, the Mountaineers have lost some key contributors on the defensive side of the ball this offseason to the transfer portal (Tykee Smith, Dreshun Miller, and Jeffery Pooler), but there is also a lot of talent returning from a defense that finished 4th nationally in 2020. Arizona transfer will slide right into Tykee Smith's role and as good as Smith was in his two years in Morgantown, his departure won't be as big of a hit as Miller's, solely based on who is filling in his role. Young was one of the top safeties in the PAC 12 and I expect him to do the same with WVU in the Big 12. The front seven will be West Virginia's strength with the return of Akheem Mesidor, Dante Stills, and Taijh Alston on the d-line and Josh Chandler-Semedo, Exree Loe, Jared Bartlett, and VanDarius Cowan at linebacker. If the key pieces of this defense stay healthy throughout the course of the season, there's no reason to believe that WVU can't finish inside the top 10 nationally once again.
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