WVU’s Neal Brown: Big 12 deepest conference ‘in the entire country’

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark proclaimed his league one of the three best in the land earlier this week, and he has at least one football expert in his corner on that statement: West Virginia head

WVU’s Neal Brown: Big 12 deepest conference ‘in the entire country’

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark proclaimed his league one of the three best in the land earlier this week, and he has at least one football expert in his corner on that statement: West Virginia head coach Neal Brown.

Brown, fresh off a 9-4 campaign that validated his program in a lot of outsiders’ eyes, resulting in a contract extension and continued show of faith from his administration, knows quite a bit about keeping a chip on his shoulder. Speaking at Big 12 media days in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Brown made the point that both his league and his program continue to be undervalued.

“I think Commissioner Yormark spoke about this yesterday, (that) we’re the most competitive league,” Brown said. “I would say we’re the deepest football league in the entire country.

“We were the No. 1 Power Four rushing offense in the country last year. And we’re picked seventh in the league. And we’re not in most of these preseason Top 25s. So, I think there’s a similar dynamic that works with this team, too. And, more importantly, to me on a personal level, I believe some of our players are undervalued.”

Brown cited quarterback Garrett Greene and offensive lineman Wyatt Milum, also in attendance Wednesday, as being two specific examples of players who deserve more recognition.

“We’re coming off 9-4, I look at most of the preseason Top 25, we’re not in it,” he added. “With a team that finished strong last year that returns a lot of production, that has one of the most dynamic players in all of college football in Garrett Greene.”

The program, which struggled through Brown’s first four seasons (22-25), took on the coach’s identity in Year 5 — a year in which the Mountaineers were picked in the preseason to finish last (14th) in their conference. His squad saw that prediction as a challenge, embodying Brown’s vision of “toughness” and “smart football” with an “underdog” mentality to win nine games and beat North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Much of that team returns in 2024 yet again, the Mountaineers feel doubted. Greene is joined on offense by playmakers at running back in Jahiem White and CJ Donaldson, a proven tight end in Kole Taylor, a run-mashing offensive line, and a new receiving threat in Jaden Bray, who transferred in from Oklahoma State.

“I know we’re one of the top teams in the conference,” Greene said. “And we’re looking forward to showing that this year.

“Preseason rankings, they don’t really hold too much weight for me. That’s why you play the game.”

The defense, particularly the secondary, has bigger questions, though the Mountaineers addressed some of those specific concerns in the transfer portal, as well. They’ll also be able to lean on a stout defensive line led by standout Sean Martin.

They’ll have an opportunity to prove themselves right out of the gate this fall, as the Mountaineers open against heavyweight regional-rival Penn State at home in Morgantown in a much-hyped game. That contest will likely go a long way in forming perceptions not only of WVU, but also of the league in which they reside.

“I think we’ll show really well on national television,” Brown said. “But it’s not just a big game for West Virginia. … It’s an opportunity for our league and this new Big 12 … in that first weekend on a marquee stage to show what kind of football that we play in this league.

“Without a question, it’s something, whether it’s West Virginia or any other program in the Big 12 (getting) those kind of marquee wins — our brand will continue to grow.”