The 2009 season will mark the beginning of a new era for West Virginia University football.
With former quarterback Patrick White now playing for the Miami Dolphins and four of the starting offensive linemen from last season's 9-4 Meineke Car Care Bowl team gone, the Mountaineers could be in for one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory for the program.
The first order of business in the offseason for the Mountaineers will be, of course, finding a replacement for White under center. Senior Jarrett Brown solidified his spot as the starter after an impressive spring. Brown, who saw playing time in his sophomore and junior seasons, will lead an offense surrounded by a variety of talented skill players for offensive coordinator Jeff Mullens.
Brown will enjoy Mullens' more balanced offensive attack, as it will give him a chance to throw the ball downfield more often, something that the team did not do with White at quarterback.
As for the other players benefiting the most from the new wrinkles in the offense, 6'8" receiver Wes Lyons had a solid spring, catching six passes for 116 yards and two scores in the spring game.
Senior Alric Arnett could also be bound to have a huge season and is one of the more underrated receivers in the Big East. He led the team in yards last season (466) and was second on the team with six touchdowns.
Junior Jock Sanders, who also plays running back, and freshman Logan Heastie will also factor in nicely with the offense. Sophomore Tyler Urban is another pass catching threat that Brown will have to look to and gives the offense a dimension that it hasn't had in many, many years—a reliable pass-catching tight end.
But even with all of these targets in the passing game, the WVU offense will still, as always, be centered around a solid running game.
Returning in the backfield will be preseason First-Team All-Big East selection Noel Devine. The shifty junior finished last season with 1,289 yards and four touchdowns on the ground for the Mountaineers, numbers that should only improve in 2009. Brown will also factor in the running game as he has proved that he could be a reliable option on the ground.
Sophomore Mark Rodgers was the team's primary backup last season and will most likely keep that role this year. But redshirt freshman Jordan Roberts had a remarkable spring and could also be a factor in the offense, as could highly-touted freshman Tavon Austin.
With so much talent at the skill positions, it is tough to figure out why the Mountaineers are not being picked to finished higher than they are in the Big East this season. Well, the answer is pretty simple; they return only two linemen who saw significant action last season.
Senior Selvish Capers and junior Eric Jobe will anchor the line for WVU at the right tackle and center positions, while Don Barclay, Josh Jenkins, and Jeff Braun are expected to round out the starters up front.
With such an inexperienced line, a solid core of skill players might not be enough to get this Mountaineer team back into a BCS bowl game.
On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Jeff Casteel will lean on 2008 Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP Reed Williams to lead a solid, experienced group that finished ninth in the nation in scoring defense last season (15.9 ppg).
Junior Second-Team All-Big East defensive end Scooter Berry will lead the WVU defensive line in the 3-3-5 stack defense along side of Julian Miller at the other end and Chris Neild at nose guard.
Williams, J.T. Thomas, and Pat Lazear lead a very strong linebacking corp that should be the strength of the defense this season.
Brandon Hogan, a former receiver turned defensive back, and Keith Tandy will likely start at the corners this year and hard-hitting sophomore Robert Sands returns at free safety, as well as Franchot "Boogie" Allen at the bandit and Sidney Glover at strong safety.
I think that the Mountaineers will finish at 8-4 or 9-3 in the second year of the Bill Stewart Era of WVU football. They should win most, if not all, of their home games, but could lose at home to Pitt, as well as tough road games against Auburn, South Florida, and Cincinnati.