West Virginia football is coming off its best season since joining the Big 12, and the Mountaineers want to make that level of success the norm.
WVU went 10-3 last season and emerged as a contender for the Big 12 title. Athletic director Shane Lyons told DieHards earlier this offseason that the biggest goal for the program going forward is “sustainability.”
“Unfortunately, we didn’t win the bowl game, but I think the momentum we have going into this year is very good,” Lyons said. “So it’s sustaining that top-20 [ranking] and vying for the Big 12 as well as a national championship.”
Coach Dana Holgorsen signed a five-year contract extension in December, months after facing questions about his job security. It was a reward for his best season since his debut with the Mountaineers in 2011, when WVU went 10-3 and won the Orange Bowl.
It also was a vote of confidence. Lyons thinks Holgorsen has grown as a head coach since he arrived in Morgantown. Holgorsen had success as an offensive coordinator at Houston and Oklahoma State, but he had never been in charge of a program.
“I think coach has learned some things from being a first-time coach,” Lyons said. “He’s getting over that, and now he’s proven that he can have – and we’ve had winning seasons – but a very good winning season. And how do we sustain that in the future?”
The Mountaineers might not have that same level of success in 2017. They lost quarterback Skyler Howard and wide receiver Shelton Gibson. On defense, they have to replace cornerback Rasul Douglas, who led the Big 12 in interceptions last year.
However, they have the Big 12’s top returning running back in Justin Crawford. Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier is expected to make a big impact. And while the defense replaces a lot of pieces, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is one of the best in the country.
And over it all is a head coach who has proven himself capable of handling the gauntlet of the Big 12.
So Lyons believes there is reason for optimism, not just heading into this season, but in the years to come.
“I think our future’s bright,” he said.