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stillsacktcu

WVU’s Dante Stills (right) wraps up TCU quarterback Max Duggan on a sack.

That’ll teach me to take time off again.

The last time I wrote in this space, in a piece that ran two weeks ago, I was predicting a West Virginia win over Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, favoring the Mountaineers’ speed over the Golden Gophers’ size.

If I couldn’t have been more wrong yet there was no one still awake to see it, did it ever really happen?

The truth is, it did. If you did fall asleep before the game’s conclusion, I certainly couldn’t blame you. It was as if all of the offensive woes that plagued the Mountaineers throughout the 2021 season culminated in one drive-stalling, 206-yard producing blah-fest.

At 18-6, it was a final score befitting a Pee Wee contest. It should’ve been aired in black and white.

In the course of a 60-minute football game, all the good will that had seemingly been built over a 4-2 second half of the season and in winning two straight games to make a bowl game had been shot.

The ire of Mountaineer fans echoed all over social media, and with the season being complete, it was hard to imagine anything could change that.

But it certainly did change. It got worse.

As I burned the last of the year’s vacation days, several Mountaineers set Twitter ablaze with announcements of intentions of entering the transfer portal.

Each one sparked and renewed the concerns and outrage of an already aggravated group of fans.

Long snapper JP Hadley, wide receiver Winston Wright, quarterback Jarret Doege and defensive back Jackie Matthews were the latest movers, compounding what has been busy year for transfers for WVU. Seven other former Mountaineers — linebacker James Thomas, defensive end Eddie Watkins, defensive lineman Darel Middleton, linebacker Devell Washington, running back A’varius Sparrow and wideouts Sam Brown and Isaiah Esdale — are in the portal, with linebacker VanDarius Cowan (Maryland), offensive lineman Parker Moorer (East Carolina) and defensive back Kerry Martin (Akron) having already found new homes.

West Virginia has picked up a few as well, with running back Lyn-J Dixon, defensive lineman Zeiqui Lawton (Cincinnati), cornerback Marcis Floyd (Murray State) and tight end Brian Polendey (Colorado State) all coming in for next season.

But the additions haven’t matched the departures in terms of numbers … yet. Those numbers will almost certainly even up somewhat before next season.

West Virginia got some great news over the break as well. Linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo and defensive lineman Dante Stills each announced their intention to return to the program, capitalizing on an extra year of eligibility offered by the NCAA after the 2020 season, which was impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic. I would argue those two, along with defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, who will also be back, were the Mountaineers’ top defensive players. Should everyone stay and remain healthy, the WVU front seven has a chance to be special in 2022.

But in the doomsday society in which we live, that’s not what makes headlines. And to a point, I get the apprehension. West Virginia seems to have been hit as hard as most, if not harder, by the transfer portal. A certain website posing as a media outlet, one in which I won’t recognize by name in this piece or anywhere else, seems to revel in drumming up panic. It’s click bait. Treat it as such.

For some perspective, I urge you to dive a little bit deeper. While exact numbers by school are fluctuating daily and are extremely difficult to nail down, the NCAA Transfer Portal Twitter account, powered by Rivals, released a list of the top nine schools in terms of scholarship players to transfer since Aug. 1.

Well, guess what? West Virginia wasn’t on it. Virginia led the list with 19, with Iowa State, Arizona and Kentucky tied for seventh at 12.

And that’s where the gray area comes in. Wright, Doege and Matthews are really the first WVU starters to hit the portal, with Esdale, Cowan and Moorer having started or contributed heavily in the past.

A quick side note: If you’ve trashed Doege on social media and openly begged for his transfer for months, only to turn around and bemoan the culture of the program once he decided to go, you’re a huge part of the problem. Of several problems, actually.

I had a friend text me to tell me that the situation is “nuclear.” I’ve had others email me to discuss the failure of the administration, calling for athletic director Shane Lyons’ head as well as that of coach Neal Brown. It’s ventured well past concern and has entered into panic territory.

Take a page from Eddie Vedder’s song book and just breathe.

WVU will have a bevy of experience returning along what should be one of the Big 12’s best defensive fronts. The entirety of the starting five on the offensive line should be back. Starting receivers Sam James and Bryce Ford-Wheaton are slated to return, with freshman Kaden Prather returning after an encouraging end to the season.

And Brown is bringing in one of the program’s best recruiting classes and already has a heck of a start on the next one.

Those I’ve talked to within the program continue to maintain that all is well. This is just part of modern college athletics, for better or for worse.

For the most part, I agree, and I’m much more concerned about the final result — wins and losses — than I am about who’s leaving, staying or incoming. But I felt like I had to address the elephant in the room.

As unpleasant as it was, it was still more fun than watching the Mountaineers succumb to the Gophers.

Ryan Pritt covers WVU sports. He can be reached at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@hdmediallc.com. Follow him on Twitter

@RPritt.