The 2009 college football season will kick off in a little more than two months. To make the time go a little faster, I have been counting down my top 50 teams one team at a time.
No. 39 Minnesota Golden Gophers
No. 38 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
It is hard not to feel like the West Virginia football program has reached the end of an era.
The gruff and grumpy Rich Rodriguez is old news and the goofy and giddy Bill Stewart is attempting to put his stamp on the program. A program that is now without quarterback Pat White, West Virginia's most recognizable star in decades.
Replacing White will be Stewart's toughest job to date, but the ever optimistic head coach is confident he has found the man for the job in fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown.
Brown laid claim to the quarterback job and the team, answering any questions when he hit 21 of 28 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns in a spring game that he opened with 15 consecutive completions.
"It's Jarrett Brown's team," Stewart proclaimed. "He is special. All he's ever done is win."
Brown certainly has the experience and the arm strength to be a good fit in an offense that has become increasingly reliant on the forward pass.
Brown will have a bevy of talented and dangerous receivers to throw to. Jock Sanders returns (if he meets certain conditions after being suspended this spring) and leads a new look receiving corp with Wes Lyons, Alric Arnett, Bradley Starks, and prized newcomer Logan Heastie giving the Mountaineers plenty of size and speed.
The brightest star in Morgantown is tailback Noel Devine, a 5-8, 175-pound lightning bolt who has averaged just under seven yards a carry for his career. Devine is as electric as any player in the country.
Much of Devine's success is dependent on the performance of an offensive line that performed sporadically last season.
When West Virginia has been most dominant it has had an offensive line that consistently protected the passer and opened holes for the playmakers. This season’s edition is more than a little vulnerable, having to replace four starters and lean on a more anonymous group.
This is a new era for Mountaineer offensive lineman. Gone are the day of using zone blocking schemes that masked the modest size and athleticism of the lineman.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's scheme requires the blockers to be far more versatile and mobile and the Mountaineers have been recruiting accordingly.
If the offense is going to get beyond last season’s inconsistency, it will need Josh Jenkins, Selvish Capers, and Don Barclay to clear the path.
The strength of this team will be a defensive unit that will blitz, blitz again, and then blitz some more.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will bring pressure from all angles. He certainly has the requisite athletes at outside linebacker and safety to create havoc and confuse offenses with a variety of different looks.
Reed Williams, J.T. Thomas, Pat Lazear, Sidney Glover, and Robert Sands all cover a lot of ground and will be turned loose liberally.
Defensive linemen Chris Neild and Scooter Berry both have all-conference potential and could wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
West Virginia began last season as the heavy favorite to win the Big East title, but lost four games for the first time in four years and lost its grip on the conference crown.
This season the Mountaineers will enter the season as a member of a small group of teams that are the favorites to win.
West Virginia fans have grown accustomed to championships and marquee bowl games and last season's 9-4 finish and Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance just didn't cut it.
Now it up to Stewart to keep the prosperity rolling after so much success. If he can't deliver, folks in Morgantown will grow tired of the goofy, "aw shucks" routine.
UP NEXT: Another Big East team checks in at No. 37. Can this new Big East power keep up their recent success?