Today I'm kicking off my parallel countdown series (to accompany my regular Friday unit previews) of Five WVU Freshmen To Watch in the 2009 season, which kicks off at home against I-AA Liberty at noon on Sept. 5.
I'll count them down from No. 5 to No. 1. Understand that I'm not saying these players will pan out or even end up playing. I'm saying that these are five (maybe six) freshmen whom the coaches have identified as being groomed for contribution, who likely will avoid red-shirting and who have looked good so far according to accounts of the spring and August practices, as passed on to me by observers there.
I start with No. 5, quarterback Eugene (Geno) Smith.
Smith was a last-second replacement recruit for the touted by flaky Tajh Boyd, who reneged on his commitment to WVU, then went to Tennessee, then got kicked out of Tennessee and now is in camp at Clemson. Smith turned out to be a higher-rated recruit than Boyd, but got off to an inauspicious start as a Mountaineer, breaking a foot earlier this summer in a "non-football injury," the nature of which was not disclosed by the team but is said to have involved an ATV.
Still, Smith has recovered enough to be participating in August practices wearing a non-contact green jersey and has gotten positive press from Coach Stewart thus far.
Smith's calling card: He is a double-threat quarterback suitable for WVU's option run attack but is thought of more as a passer who can run, which fits the requirements for future quarterbacks set by Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
Size, nearly meaningless high school stats: He is 6'3" and 195 pounds. As a senior, he was 205 of 338 for 3,089 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for more than 300 yards.
The plan: Smith was recruited to be the successor to senior Jarrett Brown, who has only one season to play. On the spring depth chart, Smith was listed as the last quarterback behind No. 4 Ian Loy (who?), No. 3 Coley White (Pat's little brother) and No. 2 Bradley Starks, who is also being projected as a starting wide receiver.
However, Starks is only an emergency backup (remember his "pass" during the loss to Colorado last season?), White is even smaller than his older brother and Ian Loy is, well, Ian Loy. Whoever that is.
Going into August camp, Smith was counted on as growing into the solid backup spot, a process his injury has slowed down. Necessity will speed it up. I saw White play in the spring game and he's not ready to be a full-time quarterback and Starks needs to spend his time at receiver.
Where you'll see Smith on the field this year: You either really, really want to see Smith on the field this year or you really, really don't. If you see him on the field, it either means that West Virginia is cruising to a blowout win or Brown has been injured.
Video: Here's ESPN's video.