There’s an awful lot of folks, myself included, who’d pay an inordinate sum of money to get a glimpse into the brain that lies beneath the wind-tossed lettuce of West Virginia Mountaineers head football coach Dana Holgorsen.
His reputation as one of college football’s mad scientists is constantly clashing with the reality of a 28-23 record in four seasons at West Virginia, but there’s something about that gravelly tone and that disheveled look that consistently warrants our undivided attention. Despite having failed to win more than seven games in any of the past three seasons, if West Virginia squares off against anybody even remotely relevant we gravitate towards our televisions knowing that on any given week the Mountaineers can give us something spectacular, something confounding or often some incomprehensible combination of both.
So as West Virginia breaks for spring camp with four potential starting quarterbacks in tow and Holgorsen assuming QB coaching responsibilities, it’s slightly perplexing that the battle to replace Clint Tricket has been on something of a backburner nationally.
Clearly, the battles at Ohio State and Notre Dame are higher in profile and have more national significance considering the implications of potential transfer options from those programs and, of course, their stature; however, what’s going on in Morgantown may be of more vital importance.
Because while Holgorsen’s video game offenses and the occasional flashes of brilliance (see: 2012 Orange Bowl destruction of Clemson and the 2014 win over Baylor) have been just ingratiating enough for him to remain employed, there’s an underlying presumption that if he can’t find a way to show improvement in 2015, it could be his last chance at West Virginia.
With that in mind, it was no surprise that Holgorsen took control of coaching the quarterbacks this fall when Shannon Dawson left for Kentucky, and now he’ll personally oversee the four major players in a decision that his career could potentially hinge upon.
Of course, this was a vacancy that was always going to need filling given that incumbent starter Clint Trickett was a fifth-year senior, but, with the way Trickett’s career ended (he retired prior to West Virginia’s bowl game against Texas A&M in light of five concussions in a 14-month span), the urgency of the matter was both exacerbated and accelerated.
Trickett’s battles with head injuries and his ensuing retirement late in the 2014 season also gave Skyler Howard the opportunity to take starting reps, giving the rising junior the slight edge as the competition began this week. However, three talented and equally intriguing freshmen will also get extended looks throughout the next few weeks as the focus narrows heading into the fall.
Redshirt freshman William Crest actually won the backup job coming out of camp last fall, and he got some reps in a Week Two win over Towson before taking a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Many look at Crest as the option with the highest ceiling–he brings a physicality to the position that Holgorsen hasn’t had at WVU–and he’s likely to be the most consistent threat to supplant Howard at any point in the next five months.
The other two options are true freshman David Sills and Chris Chugunov. Sills’ name may sound familiar, as he received national attention as the 13-year old that committed to USC head coach Lane Kiffin. Chugunov was an unheralded prospect with no FBS offers until Dawson saw him throw in person and lured him to camp so that he could throw in front of Holgorsen, where he earned an offer and committed on the spot.
Sills, of course, never quite developed into the all-world quarterbacking prospect he was touted as when he was in grade school, but he was still listed as a USC commitment up until Kiffin’s firing in 2014, and when he reopened his recruitment he was still highly sought after as a four-star prospect. He’s been deemed the most athletic option, but he’ll likely need some seasoning (all the better that he enrolled in January) before he’s seriously considered.
Meanwhile, Chugunov is the unquestionable wildcard. What was it that Dawson and Holgorsen saw in him to take such an enormous risk?
Obviously, the pair have a history of developing quarterbacks, so you certainly have to trust their evaluation of the incoming freshmen, and if they thought that highly of him there’s no reason to think he won’t be taken seriously. Expect Chugunov to be a fail-safe that they can redshirt without the worry of ruffling feathers in the event that he doesn’t pan out immediately, but he could also blossom unexpectedly at any point this offseason.
Each of these four players brings a different dynamic to the table, and given Holgorsen’s passing game proliferation, any one of these four could be a statistical star in 2015. Yet, having a quarterback throw for 4,000 yards won’t keep the state of West Virginia’s money flowing into the Holgorsen household.
It’ll be the player who gives the Mountaineers the best chance of exceeding the mediocrity they’ve been mired in that will keep that incredible hair blowing wildly in the West Virginian wind. The decision will be undoubtedly painstaking, and that’s why now, more than ever, I’d pay anything for a glimpse at the the wheels spinning inside Dana Holgorsen’s hilarious head.