FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 24 West Virginia
Since taking over for Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart has done a commendable job leading the West Virginia football program. Although it has yet to materialize as a national title contender, Stewart has taken the program to a pair of 9-4 seasons and two bowl wins in three tries.
His Mountaineers throw the ball more than his predecessor's did, but still maintain an aggressive ground attack. The defense is led by 10th-year defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's three down linemen approach.
Of late, this program's fate usually hinges on games against Cincinnati, USF, Connecticut and Backyard Brawl rival Pittsburgh. With USF perhaps taking a step down, sub in Rutgers and you have four competitive conference games to look forward to once again that will swing the Mountaineers either atop the Big East or into a disappointing season that might put Stewart on the hot seat.
Senior running back Noel Devine will be the offensive centerpiece, especially with a young quarterback taking the snaps. He has always been electric and he added consistency as a full-time starter last year in picking up 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns. A 2,000-yard season is not out of the question and having a Heisman Trophy candidate on the roster is always a great starting point for any program.
The challenge will be finding a way to turn a slightly above average defense into one of the conference's elite. A trio of first-team All-Big East defenders return in linebacker J.T. Thomas, cornerback Brandon Hogan and safety Robert Sands.
Overall, the Mountaineers are once again a talented program. They must shake their pattern of dropping a pair of close conference games annually if they are to be anything more than 9-4 ad infinitum under Stewart.
THE BASICS: 9-4 last year, lost to Florida State 33-21 in Gator Bowl. Seven starters back on offense, nine starters back on defense. Coach Bill Stewart is 19-8 in two-plus years at West Virginia (that is two full seasons plus the one bowl victory after taking over for Rich Rod).
KEY PLAYER YOU PROBABLY DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: Senior linebacker Anthony Leonard is a late bloomer, with just seven career starts to his name. If West Virginia's defense wants to make the leap to elite, Leonard will have to make his senior season a memorable one. The Big East media guide cover features eight starting running backs, meaning Leonard will be plenty busy against quality run games all season.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: The health and development of touted quarterback Geno Smith will greatly affect the Mountaineers' season. The first-year starter -- like all subsequent Mountaineer quarterbacks -- is still being held to the Pat White standard. The offense has changed since White departed, but the expectations have not. If Smith can't hack it, West Virginia must turn to White's younger brother, sophomore Coley White, or mega-recruit true freshman Barry Brunetti. The quarterback group is talented but extremely young and inexperienced.
DON'T MISS: West Virginia at Connecticut on Oct. 29. These programs were chosen second and fourth, respectively, in the preseason Big East media poll. Any hopes of eclipsing Pittsburgh or Cincinnati take a dive with a loss midway through conference play. The series has been one-sided, with WVU owning a spotless 6-0 mark against the improving Huskies.
PREDICTED RECORD: 8-4
FanHouse's West Virginia team page with schedule