It’s interesting that West Virginia fans are already judging new head coach Bill Stewart as a bad hire - a decision that wasn’t thought through - when actually it’s the fans that are not thinking the decision through. Stewart has been around this program for seven years now which will lend continuity to the coaching staff at a school that doesn’t get many shots at competing for a national title. Besides, wasn’t this the same head coach that led the Mountaneers to a huge beat-down over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl?

Stewart made great decision by bringing Jeff Mullen over from Wake Forest to coordinate the offense. He’ll have a lot to work with too as quarterback Pat White returns along with the entire two-deep offensive line. White continues to impress me with his ability to lead and make smart decisions. Not only is he one of the best running quarterbacks in the nation (1,335 rushing yards, 14 tds), he also completed two-thirds of his passes and only threw 4 interceptions a year ago. White will make a serious run at the Bo Jackson Award. If anything happens to White, the Mountaineers will be able to call on Jarrett Brown to lead the offense. Brown is one of the best backup QBs in the nation, and he has a similar skill set to White so that they don’t have to limit the playbook when he’s in.

The return of the entire offensive line immediately puts West Virginia in the running for a Gold Wrench. This unit paved the way for 297.2 rushing yards (third nationally) and 6.2 yards per carry. Ryan Stanchek is the headliner with 34 career starts under his belt and All America status. Center Mike Dent is solid in an offense that asks a lot out of its center, and guard Greg Isdaner is a rising star.

However, West Virginia loses a trio of skill players that contributed heavily to their offensive success the last couple years. Steve Slaton was a speedster, but he was terrible running in traffic and was honestly a product of the system. I believe 5-foot-8 sophomore Noel Devine, with his ridiculous athleticism and superior running skills, will be an immediate upgrade at running back.

Fullback Owen Schmitt and wide receiver Darius Reynaud will be more difficult to replace. Schmitt was a battering ram and a big reason White and Slaton were able to pile up big rushing yards. Reynaud was an underrated playmaker in Morgantown – I believe he was even more important to the offense than Slaton was. Reynaud scored 13 touchdowns a year ago, came up with a ton of clutch receptions, and had fantastic skills in the open field to turn short passes into long gains. Replacing Reynaud in the passing game is the single biggest concern facing the offense.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has some work to do. West Virginia managed to look good statistically on defense last season (finished in the top 10 nationally in rush defense and scoring defense) despite the fact that they were pretty average most of the time. Now only four starters return and 9 of the top 13 tacklers from a year ago are gone.

The linebackers in the 3-3-5 stack defense look solid, with Reed Williams and Mortty Ivy back in the fold, but the defensive line and secondary suffered massive losses. Up front, Johnny Dingle and Kellen Dykes are gone, leaving Scooter Berry as the only experienced D-lineman. Junior college transfer Tevita Finau was a big signing and he is expected to take over one of the three spots, but those are the only two players that can be considered a sure thing at this point.

In the secondary, Quinton Andrews and Charles Pugh are back at Rover, but the other four positions are all up for grabs. The cornerbacks in particular are in a state of flux. Overall there are too many question marks on defense for the Mountaineers to make a realistic run at going undefeated and playing for a national title.

Who – if anyone – is going to step up and fill the shoes of playmaker Darius Reynaud in the passing game?

Noel Devine. Devine’s highlight reel is already legendary. Now that he’s a full time starter that reel will expand considerably.

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