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Can Will Grier lead West Virginia to top of Big 12? |

Can Will Grier lead West Virginia to top of Big 12?

The Associated Press
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier passed for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.

Maybe Will Grier can do at West Virginia what Baker Mayfield did with Oklahoma before going to the NFL.

If the senior quarterback can mimic the spectacular season had last year by Mayfield, the Mountaineers would have a couple of significant firsts. They have never won a Big 12 Conference title or had a Heisman Trophy winner.

Oklahoma won its third Big 12 title in a row, and 11th overall, on the way to the College Football Playoff with the Heisman-winning quarterback who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

While the Sooners are the preseason favorite again, there are also high expectations for Grier, the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year who threw 34 touchdowns and 3,490 yards in his injury-shortened WVU debut. The Mountaineers even launched a website during the summer. The Big 12 has never had back-to-back Heisman winners.

“I would never approve a campaign unless I felt like a player could handle it,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s ready for this. He’s prepared himself his whole life for this. … I’ve got no worries about him not understanding expectations and how to deal with expectations.”

The Mountaineers, who are 27-27 in conference games since joining the Big 12 seven years ago, were picked second in the preseason media poll, ahead of TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State.

“We’re focused on winning games and being the best we can be, and I think Dana understands and trusts that I know that,” said Grier, the former Florida quarterback who broke the middle finger on his throwing hand when diving for the end zone in the 11th game last season. “What I’m focused on is not the expectations, but the preparation.”

West Virginia also returns receiver David Sills, a former quarterback who had 60 catches for 980 yards and a nation-best 18 TDs last season.

Mayfield’s successor at Oklahoma is Kyler Murray , the ninth overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft this summer. The former Texas A&M transfer got a nearly $5 million bonus from the Oakland Athletics, who agreed to let the speedy outfielder play one more football season. Murray and the Sooners also have 1,000-yard rusher Rodney Anderson and 1,000-yard receiver Marquise Brown.

“This is going to be an interesting team, no question,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “It’s got a chance to be maybe the most talented team that we’ve had in the now four years that we will have been at OU, but also probably our most inexperienced team as well.”

Herman’s Horns

Texas broke its string of three consecutive losing seasons in coach Tom Herman’s debut but came close to being much better than 7-6. The Longhorns lost twice in overtime, including in two OTs at USC, and had two other losses by a combined nine points.

“We have been training our guys how to finish,” Herman said. “Every drill that we do, every workout that we have, everything that we do has a finish component to it, meaning we require our guys to be at their very best when the game is on the line.”

Surging Cyclones

Iowa State is coming off its best season since 2000, an 8-5 record with wins over Oklahoma and TCU, the teams that played in the Big 12 championship game. The five losses were by a combined 25 points. Among nine returning offensive starters are 1,000-yard rusher David Montgomery and sixth-year quarterback Kyle Kempt, whose first career start was the stunning road win over the Sooners.

“I was anxious to watch the response of our football team coming back in January from some of the lessons we learned from a year ago,” third-year coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s been fun.”

Top players

• Grier and Sills, West Virginia’s standout QB-WR combo.

• Ben Banogu, TCU’s 6-foot-4, 249-pound defensive end and preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year who had 8 1/2 sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for loss last year.

• Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill, who led the Big 12 with 1,467 yards rushing as a sophomore last year after being the FBS freshman rushing leader with 1,142 yards.

• Kansas senior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr., who led the Big 12 with 11.4 tackles per game and all FBS players with 7.6 solo stops per game last year. His 25 tackles for loss were a single-season school record.

• Rodney Anderson, who ran for 1,161 yards and 13 TDs for the Sooners, and had five receiving TDs.

On the hot seat

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has been in this spot before — just last season. A win in the regular-season finale at Texas got the Red Raiders into a bowl game and pretty much saved their former quarterback’s job. He is going into his sixth year as coach with a 30-33 record after a loss to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl, and a 16-29 mark in Big 12 games.

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