juice squad.jpeg

West Virginia University football players participate in a “juice” period during an Aug. 14 practice at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morganotwn.

Here’s the thing about preseason predictions: they’re often wrong, and that’s OK.

College football, of course, is the most unpredictable of sports. It is a sport that specializes in chaos and the absurd. Only a fool would attempt to pin down what will happen between the end of August and early January with any certainty.

I’ll be playing the role of the fool today.

What we’re going to do in this space today is attempt to have some fun. Will some, if not many, of the predictions I’m about to make end up totally wrong? Probably. Will I hide in shame if I can’t correctly pick how many games West Virginia will win in 2019? No chance. If I, a blind squirrel, do find a nut or two somewhere in these predictions, will I gloat about it? Probably.

Let’s start by attempting to predict WVU in 2019:

n Game 1 vs. James Madison: JMU comes to Morgantown as the Mountaineers play their first game under new head coach Neal Brown. The Dukes have a new coach as well in former WVU quarterback Curt Cignetti and are the preseason No. 2 team in the Football Championship Subdivision. I have told anyone willing to listen that this game could end up being a battle, and that hasn’t changed. West Virginia wins, but it is closer than your typical “FCS school comes to town” game. WIN (1-0)

n Game 2 at Missouri: The Tigers are breaking in a new quarterback in Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant and are likely to play with a chip on their shoulders all season after receing an NCAA-mandated bowl ban. It will be the first time Brown takes the Mountaineers on the road, and while the atmosphere in Columbia doesn’t have the venom found elsewhere in the SEC, Mizzou should be pretty good this season. LOSS (1-1)

n Game 3 vs. North Carolina State: The Gibby Bowl! Former WVU defensive coordinator and Boone County native Tony Gibson, a popular pick to replace Dana Holgorsen as the Mountaineers’ head coach, landed on his feet as the new defensive coordinator for the Wolfpack. N.C. State still hasn’t settled on a starter at quarterback. This should be a fun game between two teams trying to establish an identity, with the edge going to the home team. WIN (2-1)

n Game 4 at Kansas: David Beatty is out, and Les Miles is in. Miles replaces Holgorsen as the coach most likely to end up as a meme, and on the field the Jayhawks still have standout running back Pooka Williams. Other than that, however, it’s hard to find much good about KU and it figures to be another long football season in Lawrence. Kansas might be better than in the past, but the bar isn’t exactly set very high in that regard. WIN (3-1)

n Game 5 vs. Texas: West Virginia and its fans have spent a large amount of energy reminding Texas of two things — 1) WVU beat the Longhorns in Austin last season, and 2) they prefer their horns pointing downward. This is West Virginia’s homecoming game and the crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium should be rocking, but Texas should be among the Big 12’s elite this season. Longhorns coach Tom Herman and standout quarterback Sam Ehlinger have not forgotten all the trash the Mountaineers talked last season, and they’ll get their revenge in Morgantown. LOSS (3-2)

n Game 6 vs. Iowa State: As much as WVU and its fans love to remember last year’s win at Texas, they’d probably equally like to forget the trip to Ames. Simply put, Iowa State pounded West Virginia into dust last season. The Cyclones did lose their standout running back and receiver from that team, but sophomore Brock Purdy is one of the best young quarterbacks in all of college football and head coach Matt Campbell is going to be one of the first names mentioned anytime a “big” coaching vacancy opens up. Iowa State is set up for a strong showing in 2019, and should prove superior to WVU on this day. LOSS (3-3)

n Game 7 at Oklahoma: Did WVU do something to upset the schedule makers? Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma are the three best teams in the Big 12, and West Virginia gets them all in consecutive games with the best coming last. Yes, the Sooners lost the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner to the NFL. Yes, my college intramural team could have put up some points on OU’s defense last season. Oklahoma, however, remains Oklahoma. Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts steps in as the new starting quarterback, and to put it mildly he is pretty good. LOSS (3-4)

n Game 8 at Baylor: This is a Thursday game (on Halloween) following a break coming out of the game at Oklahoma. West Virgina will get a chance to reset after that rough stretch against the league’s top three teams, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor ends up as the fourth-best team in the Big 12 this season. Coach Matt Rhule has done a spectacular job bringing the Bears back from the depths to which Art Briles sank the program, and quarterback Charlie Brewer belongs right there with Hurts, Purdy and Ehlinger as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference. WVU makes a game of this, but the Bears still come out on top. LOSS (3-5)

n Game 9 vs Texas Tech: Every season it seems there are a few “50-50” games that could go either way, and this one falls in that category for me. I’m not as down on Texas Tech as some have been, and sophomore quarterback Alan Bowman, when healthy, is pretty good. WVU, however, comes into this riding a four-game losing streak and desperate for something positive. Brown and the Mountaineers get what they’re looking for here and West Virginia snaps its losing streak. WIN (4-5)

n Game 10 at Kansas State: Chris Kleiman is a very good football coach, but I don’t think Kansas State will be a very good football team this season. Winning on the road in the Big 12 is always a tall task, and I don’t think West Virginia will do much of it this season outside its two trips to the Sunflower State. Clear the quad, the Mountaineers are going streaking. WIN (5-5)

n Game 11 vs. Oklahoma State: This game always seems to produce a strange result, and last year’s game in Stillwater was certainly a strange one. This year, I expect the Cowboys to be a little bit better than last year. OSU receiver Tylan Wallace is one of the best at his position in the country and should be the best player on the field in Morgantown for this game. The Mountaineers will have some momentum coming into this one and the added incentive of needing a win to get bowl eligible, but I like Okalahoma State in a close one. This is the pick I feel least good about. LOSS (5-6)

n Game 12 at TCU: West Virginia still needs one win to qualify for a bowl game, but getting it on the Friday after Thanksgiving in Fort Worth is a lot to ask. I’m not one of the people predicting the Horned Frogs will return to the top of the Big 12 this season, in fact, just like WVU, I have them needing a win in this game to get bowl eligible. TCU wins this at home, and WVU gets to start working on 2020. LOSS (5-7)

So there you have it — 5-7 isn’t terrible for this West Virginia team. Considering I will almost certainly be wrong about some of the predictions made here, a win or two I’m not accounting for puts the Mountaineers in a bowl game in Brown’s first season — which would be a big shot in the arm in the process of rebuilding the program in the new coach’s image.

Before we wrap this up, let’s pick some conference winners and a national champion.

n Conference winners: Oklahoma (Big 12), Clemson (ACC), Alabama (SEC), Michigan (Big 10), Oregon (Pac-12), Cincinnati (American), Marshall (Conference USA), Ohio (Mid-American), Boise State (Mountain West), Appalachian State (Sun Belt).

n College Football Playoff: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan

n National championship: Clemson d. Alabama

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/