With spring ball in full swing, and the annual spring game coming up on April 7th, a quick glance at the depth chart brings one glaring situation to mind. The Mountaineers are exceptionally short on the number of scholarship players on the roster. With the recent departure of Kevin Williams, there are now only 73 players on scholarship, despite the NCAA allowing 85. That means that WVU could have twelve more players on the team to give depth, improve talent and to develop for the future.
When you compare this to other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia is severely behind. Only two other schools are below the 85 issued scholarship mark, Kansas State has 75 and Oklahoma State has 81. Every other school is using their entire allotment that the NCAA allows. The advantage of the additional twelve players to use during games and develop is hard to quantify. When you look at the Mountaineer roster though it is easy to see the negative effects. The roster is thin at quarterback, corner and defensive line. In a league where the Mountaineers have to face programs like Texas and Oklahoma who consistently have top ten recruiting classes each year it is already hard enough to create a competitive roster. Failing to take full advantage of the maximum allotment of given scholarships is almost unthinkable.
With reduced numbers it is very hard to build depth and talent at any position but even more so for the offensive line. Unlike Texas and Oklahoma, WVU never signs blue chip offensive lineman. Instead West Virginia has to take smaller and lesser touted recruits and develop them into players that can compete in the Big 12. This typically takes two to three years, one of which is typically a redshirt season. This is why you rarely see offensive lineman play before their redshirt sophomore or junior season. Not having the full allotment of players on the roster hampers the ability to develop these key players. One of the reasons that the Mountaineers have fallen short of winning or really competing for a Big 12 Championship is the lack of a dominating offensive line. In 2017 Colton McKivitz and Yodny Cajuste were the starters are tackle and both performed well. The issue though is the backup for both of them was
the same player, Kelby Wickline. There should be two backups but there wasn’t anyone else ready on the roster to play tackle. Wickline isn’t a player that was developed either, he was a rare highly touted junior college signee who happens to be the son of WVU offense line coach, Joe Wickline.
This is a clear example of the thin talent and depth situations created by undersigned classes.
The reason that WVU is so short on scholarship players stems from several problems. While not signing enough players is certainly part of the issue, it is also compounded by not having players qualify academically and having a high amount transfer out of the program. When you look at the other Big 12 schools and the amount of scholarships that they’re utilizing, it is hard to come up with excuses for the current situation in Morgantown.
In contrast, Bob Huggins has two seniors graduating from this year’s basketball team. Currently there are four recruits committed to the WVU basketball program. Since the end of the season, D’Angelo Hunter has announced that he will transfer from the program thus freeing up another scholarship for one of the commitments. That leaves Huggins with one commitment above his available amount. If someone else doesn’t leave the team, Huggins will be forced to revoke a scholarship from another player on the team or not give one of the commits a scholarship. This is undoubtedly a tough situation but necessary to make sure that the team has a full roster. It also seems obvious that this is the tactic or strategy that the rest of the Big 12 must be using.
Over-signing classes has long been used as a way to make sure that teams fill their entire allotment of scholarships.For West Virginia’s football team though, in a year when the offense seems poised to be one of the best the country, it appears that the Mountaineers will be dangerously thin at two positions on defense and have twelve less players to select from for special teams.
Special team units rely heavily on corners and defensive ends for kickoff, kick return and the punting units. Many teams do use starters on special team units but not typically when there isn’t a backup capable of taking over that starting role. These units have been a weak point for West Virginia for years and a shortage of key players will not be helpful for their success in 2018.
Sadly, this shortage of scholarship players on the roster will be a problem for years. Those twelve slots should be filled over several recruiting classes and not all at once to spread out talent and depth between classes. Hopefully this short fall in team numbers isn’t enough to plague the Mountaineer’s season this fall.