Neal Brown [1296x729]
Neal Brown [1296x729] (Credit: Christopher Leduc/Icon Sportswire)

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LAS VEGAS -- A year after being picked to finish last in the Big 12, West Virginia is still seeking more respect as a team and for its individual standouts.

Last July, coach Neal Brown bristled at West Virginia's place in the 2023 preseason media poll, and the Mountaineers delivered with nine wins -- their most since 2016. After returning quarterback Garrett Greene, standout offensive tackle Wyatt Milum and others, West Virginia moved up to No. 7 in this year's preseason poll but don't appear in many national top 25 lists.

"I'm surprised and I'm not surprised," Brown told ESPN at Big 12 media days at Allegiant Stadium. "A lot of these top 25s came out and we're not in it, and when I look at it, winning nine games last year and looking at what we have returning, it doesn't make sense to me."

Brown added that there's an "eager anticipation" around his team, which returns most of its starting offense and several key defenders. Greene had 2,406 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions as the Mountaineers' starter last year, although he completed only 52.9% of his passes and finished 47th nationally in pass efficiency.

Colorado's Shedeur Sanders was listed as the quarterback on the preseason All-Big 12 league by the media. Milum, a second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2023 and an NFL draft prospect in 2025, is the only West Virginia player selected to the team.

"We have one of the most dynamic players in the country at quarterback, who I think is being really undervalued, if you look at his numbers compared to some of the other quarterbacks in our league," Brown said.

Milum thinks West Virginia is "100 percent" worthy of top 25 inclusion and will contend for the Big 12 title and its first College Football Playoff appearance in the fall. Safety Aubrey Burks said an underdog mentality is part of the program's fabric, but Milum said the external view of the program goes deeper.

"I just think people overlook us," Milum said. "How do you win nine games and are still seventh [in the preseason poll] with the returning players that you have coming back? I just feel disrespected. Why? I don't know why. With the returning players that we have and the players we brought in, it doesn't really make much sense, but it is what it is, and we're just going to go prove them wrong."

West Virginia gets an immediate opportunity as it opens the season by hosting Penn State.

"That would definitely just show everybody what we're going to bring to the table this year," Milum said. "A top-10 win, that would definitely make a statement for the first game."