Saturday, August 22, 2009

CFI Countdown: #25 West Virginia Mountaineers

2008 Record: 9-4 (Big East: 5-2)
Bowl Game: Won Meineke Car Care Bowl vs. North Carolina 31-30
Location: Morgantown, West Virginia
Stadium: Mountaineer Field @ Milan Puskar Stadium (60,000)
Head Coach: Bill Stewart
Overall: 18-29 (5th season)
@ West Virginia: 10-4 (2nd season)
Link to WVU Football Page

After entering the season with high expectations, it is hard to make the argument that the Mountaineers weren’t at least somewhat of a disappointment in 2008, despite winning nine games (with the senior class winning a record 42 games) and a fourth straight bowl game. However, for the first time with Pat White leading the way, WVU failed to win 11 games and finish in the top 10. That they did so in Bill Stewart’s first season at the helm has the Morgantown faithful keeping a wary eye on the head coach’s sophomore effort.

When the Mountaineers Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Mullen (2nd Season)
Scheme: Spread Option
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: QB Pat White, OT Ryan Stancheck, OG Greg Isdaner, OC Mike Dent, WR Dorrell Jalloh

Senior signal caller Jarrett Brown is not your typical first year senior starter—the kid has skills—he simply had the misfortune of playing behind one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of college football the past three seasons. Whenever he has had the opportunity to play, Brown has represented himself well, displaying the ability to beat opposing defenses with his arm and legs. If the Mountaineers are going to throw more in ’09, as Coach Bill Stewart vows, then the receiving corps will need to step up as well. In seniors Alric Arnett and Wes Lyons, junior Jack Sanders, sophomore Bradley Starks, as well as freshman Logan Heastie, they have the weapons to make the transition. That doesn’t mean the running game will be an afterthought, not with the explosively dynamic Noel Devine (pictured), who at 5’ 8” (175 pounds) is a dangerous homerun hitter who will strike fear in opposing defenses. To allow the skill players to do what they can do, the offensive line will need to mesh after losing several key longtime contributors. Right tackle Selvish Capers is a nice building block.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) OT Selvish Capers (SR), 2) RB Noel Devine (JR), 3) QB Jarrett Brown (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Jeff Casteel (8th Season)
Scheme: 3-3-5 Stack
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: LB Mortty Ivy, CB Ellis Lankster, S Quinton Andrews

It all starts up front with defensive end Scooter Berry (pictured) and noseman Chris Neild—a pair of juniors who were the linchpins of the number one scoring defense in the Big East last season. Berry has the quicks to get into the backfield, while Neild is as active as they come in the middle. While it will be difficult to replace Mortty Ivy, 2008 Fiesta Bowl MVP Reed Williams makes his return after suffering a serious shoulder injury. The secondary needs to replace a pair of key contributors and will rely on a sophomore duo—cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Robert Sands—to fill in. Sands has the ability to flourish as a playmaker.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) LB Reed Williams (SR), 2) DL Scooter Berry (JR), 3) S Robert Sands (SO)

The Schedule

Out of conference they face East Carolina, Auburn, and Colorado—can they avenge 2008 losses to the Pirates and Buffaloes without slipping up in their trip to Auburn, which is sandwiched in between? Early season losses to ECU and Colorado derailed any chances for National Title contention last year. In conference play, they face three tough road tests (@ South Florida, Cincinnati & Rutgers), with two coming in the final three games of the season. They also play host to Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving weekend, having lost the last two Backyard Brawls to their border rival.

Pivotal Point

We can talk about the questions on the offensive line, the adjustment in offensive philosophy, and the potential vulnerabilities in their pass defense, but nothing can stack up to having to replace Pat White. No matter how much confidence Florida native Brown has earned, it’s one thing to fill in for the man…it’s quite another to be the man. It will be unfair, but the comparisons to White—a legend in his own time—are inevitable. As critical as his running and passing is to the offense, it is how Brown replaces White as the team’s leader that will dictate how high these Mountaineers will climb. Not to be underestimated is the loss of kicker/punter Pat McAfee.

CFI Final Analysis

Since going 1-6 in Big East play (3-9 overall) in 2001, the Mountaineers have been in the thick of the Big East race, winning the conference title in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007—and this year will be no different. The second year under Coach Stewart and the first without White will go a long way in determining how people feel about the program’s future. Don’t expect a top ten finish or 11 wins—like in 2005, 2006 and 2007—but another bowl appearance and a top 25 finish should be in the offing.

Check back tomorrow to see who is #24 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown

Photo Credit: WVU Sports Communication