Big East spring recap

Updated: May 4, 2006, 1:57 PM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

West Virginia's unbeaten run through the Big East -- and Sugar Bowl win -- last season has the target squarely on the Mountaineers. Although WVU is certainly the favorite, Louisville and Rutgers can't be discounted entering the 2006 season.

Cincinnati Bearcats
2006 Schedule
9/2 Eastern Kentucky
9/8 Pittsburgh
9/16 at Ohio State
9/23 at Virginia Tech
9/30 Miami (Ohio)
10/7 Akron
10/14 at Louisville
10/21 South Florida
10/28 Syracuse
11/11 at West Virginia
11/18 Rutgers
11/25 at Connecticut

2005 overall record:
4-7
Conference record: 2-5
Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 10, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Bradley Glatthaar* (620 yds)
Passing: Dustin Grutza* (1,799 yds)
Receiving: Earnest Jackson* (364 yds)
Tackles: Haruki Nakamura* (76)
Sacks: Adam Roberts (6)
Interceptions: Nakamura* and Dominic Ross (2)

Spring answers: If you're looking for the player who caused the most intrigue in UC camp this spring, it undoubtedly would be ever-versatile David Wess. A backup at strong safety last year, the sophomore was moved to the offense -- but that's about as specific as we can get. He'll run a little option at quarterback. He'll run plenty at tailback. He'll probably even line up in the slot at times. The plan is to just get the ball in his hands and let him make plays. The coaches are that impressed with his athletic ability. … The staff also is excited about the progress of Dominick Goodman. Like Wess, he was an option quarterback in high school, but this sophomore is sticking with one position: wide receiver. If he continues to show an encouraging ability to create space, Goodman will be a big part of the passing game. … The Bearcats return just about everybody from the league's worst defense. In some cases, that's a good thing. In others, not so much. With sophomore DE Trevor Anderson, it's certainly the former. Let's just say the Cincy quarterbacks became quite acquainted with Mr. Anderson this spring. In fact, you can be assured some people inside the program took notice when he changed his number from 90 to the 56 formerly worn by standout end Antwaan Peek. With sack leader Adam Roberts the lone defensive starter gone, the thought of a Peek-like rush end is a pleasant one in the Queen City. … Both Kevin Huber and Brian Steel were booming the ball down the field in their competition to replace graduated punter Chet Ervin. Why is that so important? Read on …

Fall questions: It's not as though QB Dustin Grutza was atrocious last season, especially for a freshman. Still, the coaching staff would have at least liked a spring challenge for a quarterback who threw as many picks as touchdowns (11) in 2005. Despite four players getting a shot, that challenge never really developed. Redshirt freshman Craig Carey was expected to give a push, but he was sidelined with mono for much of the spring. Sophomore Tony Pike had his moments, but never consistently. How unsettling is the situation? Throw in Grutza, and the five quarterbacks on the roster went a combined 11-of-41 passing with three interceptions in the spring game. … To be fair, the rebuilding offensive line didn't help. Trying to replace three graduated starters, that group was pushed around all spring by the defensive front. That's not a good sign for an offense that was stagnant last season, never getting out of the 20s in point total and ranking 105th nationally in scoring (17.5 points per game). Shaky pass protection didn't allow the Cats to stretch the field through the air. If JC transfers Mario Duenas and Kenny Rodriguez don't pick up the system quicker than they did in the spring, nothing will change. … Cincy also is seeking a tailback who can stretch the field at least occasionally. That search has yet to yield a positive result. Junior Bradley Glatthaar was out during practice, but it's not as though he's much of a breakaway threat anyway. … At one point last season, UC was starting six true freshmen on defense. For the most part, it showed. Only one starter was lost, so not much needed to be decided this spring. It's a stark contrast from last offseason, when Cincinnati returned just three starters to the unit. The road schedule includes trips to West Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Ohio State. Yikes. The still young defense had better grow up quickly.

Connecticut Huskies
2006 Schedule
8/31 Rhode Island
9/16 Wake Forest
9/23 at Indiana
9/30 Navy
10/7 at South Florida
10/14 Army
10/20 West Virginia
10/29 at Rutgers
11/11 Pittsburgh
11/18 at Syracuse
11/25 Cincinnati
12/2 at Louisville

2005 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
2-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Terry Caulley* (659 yds)
Passing: Matt Bonislawski* (836 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Young* (371 yds)
Tackles: Danny Lansanah* (79)
Sacks: James Hargrave (5)
Interceptions: Darius Butler* (4)

Spring answers: Going into spring practice, coach Randy Edsall placed quarterbacks Matt Bonislawski, D.J. Hernandez, Dennis Brown and Billy Cundiff on the same line of his depth chart. Going into preseason practice, Hernandez has the top line all to himself. The sophomore not only had a solid spring but is the most mobile and least mistake-prone (threw just one interception in seven games this past fall). Bonislawski, who started the first five games last year before suffering a broken clavicle, certainly hasn't been ruled out. But Hernandez is clearly the favorite at this point. … Don't worry if you forgot how good Terry Caulley once was because the old Terry might be on the verge of a reappearance. After a torrid freshman campaign in 2002, Caulley led the nation in rushing as a sophomore before a devastating and gruesome leg injury left him with lasting nerve damage. Even when he returned last season, he never quite seemed the same. This spring, however, Caulley seemed rejuvenated with improved strength and the same blazing speed he used to carve up opponents with. Sophomore Lou Allen and redshirt freshmen Donald Brown and Andre Dixon also seemed impressive enough to give UConn coaches assurances of a strong running game. … They already know they'll have a strong secondary. All four starters return from a group that helped Connecticut finish fourth nationally in pass defense (158 yards per game). If there's going to be any kind of drop-off, the signs sure didn't appear this spring.

Fall questions: OK, so it looks as though the Huskies have decided on the man under center. Now, when does the passing game get back on track? Last fall, the three-headed quarterback monster wasn't scaring anybody but UConn fans. But it won't matter how many heads are involved this time if the receivers don't start catching and the linemen don't start blocking. Edsall was highly critical of his receiving corps throughout the spring and made it quite clear the three incoming freshmen will get every opportunity available when they arrive this summer. The Huskies also lost three starters in what was only a so-so line in the first place. Massive redshirt freshman right tackle Mike Hicks (6-foot-7, 336) was excellent in spring practice, but Connecticut simply doesn't have enough of those kind of guys at this point. … UConn didn't lose much from what was a surprisingly stout defense, but it does need to replace a couple of starting linebackers. Junior Ryan Henegan played well in the middle this spring, but what about the "Husky" position? That's much less clear heading into the summer. … And what happened to kicker Matt Nuzie last year? After garnering All-Big East honors two years ago, Nuzie not only made just 10 of 19 field goal attempts last year but also missed a couple of extra points. Will he bounce back?

Louisville Cardinals
2006 Schedule
9/2 Kentucky
9/9 at Temple
9/16 Miami (Fla.)
9/23 at Kansas State
10/6 at Middle Tennessee
10/14 Cincinnati
10/21 at Syracuse
11/2 West Virginia
11/9 at Rutgers
11/18 South Florida
11/25 at Pittsburgh
12/2 Connecticut

2005 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
5-2

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Michael Bush* (1,143 yds)
Passing: Brian Brohm* (2,883 yds)
Receiving: Joshua Tinch (855 yds)
Tackles: Brandon Johnson (72)
Sacks: Elvis Dumervil (20)
Interceptions: Johnson and Jon Russell* (2)

Spring answers: The ACL is coming along just fine. So is the backup quarterback. Two simple, but oh-so-sweet, answers to any Louisville fan wondering about the situation under center. QB Brian Brohm's rehabilitation is running way ahead of schedule, and he even took part in some noncontact passing drills this spring. He'll be fine by August. As for Hunter Cantwell, he was passing it all over the place -- and well. He not only has a rocket for an arm but also has improved his instincts in the pocket. … Is it possible the Cardinals could be deeper at receiver, even with losses of Joshua Tinch, Montrell Jones and Broderick Clark? Believe it. The replacements? A trio of transfers: Chris Vaughn from Notre Dame, Corey Thompson from Duke and Patrick Carter from Georgia Tech. Then, there's little Harry Douglas, who can fly with his 4.3 speed and had the best spring of anybody. And did we mention redshirt freshman Scott Long? The coaches love him. … They also love their situation at middle linebacker. That's why it's going to be hard not to have senior Nate Harris and sophomore Lamar Myles on the field at the same time. Both played in the middle, and experienced Harris certainly will start. The other two linebacker spots, however, are still in a little bit of flux, with six players in the mix. It stands to reason Myles will find his way onto the field one way or another.

Fall questions: Replacing three key receivers when you have an assembly line of transfers and underclassmen ready to go is one thing. Replacing three stalwarts from the offensive line is quite another. Don't underestimate the impact Travis Leffew, Jason Spitz and Jeremy Darveau had on the potent Louisville attack. And the replacements aren't exactly set in stone. At the tackle spots, it's Renardo Foster vs. Marcus Gordon and Marcel Benson vs. Breno Giacomini. At the vacated guard position, it looks like George Bussey and Danny Barlowe will battle it out in August. Know this: This situation up front will not resemble the one that eventually wrecked U of L's high hopes a few years back. But it's also worth keeping an eye on. … Yes, ladies and gentleman, Elvis has left the D-line. But it's worth taking one last look at those 2005 numbers put up by end Elvis Dumervil: 20 sacks, 23 TFL, four pass breakups and 11 forced fumbles. If those aren't the numbers of a game changer, you'll need to give us that definition again. So where's that kind of production coming from this year? Fellow end Chad Rimpsey also is gone, along with tackle Montavious Stanley. Zach Anderson and Brandon Cox look as though they have some speed on the edges, but we'll have to see whether that translates into pressure on the quarterback this fall. We'll also have to see whether true freshman Deantwan "Peanut" Whitehead can provide immediate help. He's being touted as one of the top recruits ever to sign with Louisville.

Pittsburgh Panthers
2006 Schedule
9/2 Virginia
9/8 at Cincinnati
9/16 Michigan State
9/23 The Citadel
9/30 Toledo
10/7 at Syracuse
10/13 at UCF
10/21 Rutgers
11/4 at South Florida
11/11 at Connecticut
11/16 West Virginia
11/25 Louisville

2005 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: LaRod Stephens-Howling (434 yds)
Passing: Tyler Palko* (2,392 yds)
Receiving: Greg Lee (962 yds)
Tackles: H.B. Blades* (121)
Sacks: Chris McKillop* (3.5)
Interceptions: Darrelle Revis* (4)

Spring answers: On an offensive line that needed some good news, C.J. Davis provided a dose. As a true freshman in 2005, Davis started the last six games at left guard and showed some promise. He showed even more in spring practice, being named most improved offensive player. Davis looked like a guy who had been around for three or four years. … Pitt fans want to expunge that image of Pat White running around for 220 yards as hated West Virginia poured on 45 points in last year's Backyard Brawl. The embarrassed Pitt defenders don't want to forget, though. In every facet of the game, the Mountaineers were simply too fast for the Panthers -- and that wasn't the only time speed gave this unit problems. So that aspect was the overwhelming emphasis during winter conditioning, and anyone who witnessed Pitt's scrimmages saw a noticeable difference on the field. In addition to tough conditioning, it's apparent the players are more comfortable in the system and are playing faster, as opposed to thinking about it, then attempting to react. … The linebackers led the way on defense, as they will all season. H.B. Blades is an All-American candidate, but that didn't come as any revelation. The play of Clint Session sure was a welcome one, though. Saddled with injury and inconsistency the last two years, Session always has been a tenacious hitter, but he's finally playing smart. And what about the play of converted safety Tommie Campbell? A high school state champion in the sprint, Campbell showed a knack for making plays all over the field and brings a speed and playmaking ability that haven't been seen on the weak side at Pitt in quite some time. He needs to continue to bulk up, but how often can you say a linebacker is the fastest player on the team? … The unexpected return of senior Mike Phillips late in spring practice was encouraging. A nasty ankle injury in September knocked the then-free safety out for the season. Since he'll be counted on to replace Tez Morris at free safety this fall, his return to health is welcome news.

Fall questions: It's really very simple for the Panthers: Can they run, and can they stop the run? They found little success doing either last season. In the backfield, LaRod Stephens-Howling is a decent enough option, but is he really the kind of back Dave Wannstedt was talking about when he said Pitt was going to be a power-running team from day one? Or is it incoming freshman Kevin Collier, who was a recruit of great priority for this staff? No matter who it is, there's still some work to be done up front -- even with the four starters who return. Depth is still an issue, as is the left tackle position after the graduation of Charles Spencer. Will it be sophomore John Bachman or incoming juco transfer Jeff Otah? … As far as stopping the run, the Panthers are going to have to plug some holes in the middle with the loss of both tackles. Truthfully, there were too many holes for the opponent in that area, anyway. And now teams get to take aim at an inexperienced group of four or five redshirt freshmen and sophomores. … QB Tyler Palko lost a major weapon when receiver Greg Lee put his name in the hat for the NFL draft. For the first time in years, is it possible the Panthers won't have a true go-to guy at that position? Derek Kinder and Joe DelSardo are OK second and third options, but No. 1 material? What about the young guys such as redshirt freshman Oderick Turner and versatile true freshman Dorin Dickerson? Can they contribute right away? … With Josh Cummings gone, who becomes the new kicker? David Abdul held the position from 2002 to 2003, but a car accident caused him to see limited action the next two years. Sophomore Conor Lee had a nice spring and will present a challenge.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2006 Schedule
9/2 at North Carolina
9/9 Illinois
9/16 Ohio
9/23 Howard
9/29 at South Florida
10/14 at Navy
10/21 at Pittsburgh
10/29 Connecticut
11/9 Louisville
11/18 at Cincinnati
11/25 Syracuse
12/2 at West Virginia

2005 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ray Rice (1,120 yds)
Passing: Ryan Hart* (2,135 yds)
Receiving: Tres Moses* (758 yds)
Tackles: Courtney Greene* (116)
Sacks: Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby (10)
Interceptions: Ron Girault (3)

Spring answers: Think TB Ray Rice was good as a freshman All-American? Wait until you see his sophomore year. Throughout the spring, coach Greg Schiano dropped constant reminders to his young star about the impending arrival of much-heralded freshman Kordell Young. So Rice, as mature as they come, simply broke one long run after another. Nothing like the thought of a little competition to fire up the troops. Oh, and did we mention that bulldozer Brian Leonard is still around? The Knights might be able to run it a little bit this fall. … The last player to sign with Rutgers in 2005 is proving to be one of the quickest learners. DE Peter Tverdov played some last year as a true freshman, but his playing time is about to take off. He has bulked up in the offseason and has shown a welcome nose for the ball. … It's worth noting that none of the coaches have seemed all that concerned about the secondary, a year after Rutgers finished last in the conference by giving up 239 yards per game through the air. In fact, factoring in the added depth and extra year of experience, many of them think it actually can become a strength. Schiano can't stop raving about sophomore corner Jason McCourty, who won the defense's most improved award in the spring. And after taking a year off for personal reasons, CB Anthony Miller returned and will contribute. That can't hurt.

Fall questions: Can QB Mike Teel pull a Ryan Hart? The latter overcame a nasty little interception problem and turned in one heck of a senior season in 2005. It's Teel's job now, and he needs to prove he can do the same. In just 101 pass attempts last season, Teel too often tried to force things and was picked off 10 times, compared with just two TD tosses. All went well this spring, but it wasn't exactly West Virginia lining up across from him. … Will defensive tackles Ramel Meekins and Eric Foster return at full strength after offseason surgery? The team had better hope the positive progress reports are accurate. As usual, Rutgers is a bit undersized and not all that deep on the front seven. And the team already is having to replace ends Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby, who combined for 20 sacks last season. Will converted LBs William Beckford and Chenry Lewis work as rush ends? Can the team come close to matching that 47-sack total of 2005? … Can the traditional punching bag of East Coast football deliver another knockout? This is a crucial year for the Rutgers program. Last fall, the Knights not only went to the postseason for the first time in 27 years but gained a good bit of national respect by nearly matching Arizona State point for point in the Insight Bowl held in the Sun Devils' backyard. This fall, the schedule is a little tougher, but this group might possess more talent at the skill positions than any in school history. When asked this spring what he was most worried about, Schiano -- and please sit down for this one -- insisted it was that he still doesn't have a backup center or a backup long snapper. That's not a joke. A tumble back to the bad old days with all this talent around? Now that would be a joke. And we're not sure this program can take many more of those.

South Florida Bulls
2006 Schedule
9/2 McNeese State
9/9 Florida International
9/16 at UCF
9/23 at Kansas
9/29 Rutgers
10/7 Connecticut
10/14 at North Carolina
10/21 at Cincinnati
11/4 Pittsburgh
11/11 Syracuse
11/18 at Louisville
11/25 at West Virginia

2005 overall record:
6-6
Conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Andre Hall (1,374 yds)
Passing: Pat Julmiste* (1,489 yds)
Receiving: Hall (321 yds)
Tackles: Ben Moffitt* (96)
Sacks: Terrence Royal (10)
Interceptions: 6 players tied with 2

Spring answers: Answers? Those are a little hard to come by when eight potential starters are out with injury. So, it was a spring shrouded in mystery -- and it wasn't exactly productive (we'll get to that soon). But some positive signs arose here and there. First of all, transfer Amp Hill will contribute right away. Even with a brace on his knee, he caught everything in sight, no matter where it was thrown. A prep legend from Jacksonville, Hill became lost in the shuffle at LSU after a devastating knee injury in 2003. As long as he's healthy, there's no danger of that happening at USF. … Every time coach Jim Leavitt talked about the defense, it seemed Jerome Murphy was always the first name to come out of his mouth. The true freshman cornerback enrolled early and made an immediate impression, capping it all off with two picks in the spring game. He looks like a nice addition to what is already a loaded secondary. Don't forget the Bulls had the sixth-stingiest pass defense in the country last year (165 ypg). … And don't forget how much the linebackers had to do with that, either. OK, so the team didn't really learn anything about its linebacking group it didn't already know. Depth is still needed here, but the starting three are simply tremendous. The trio of Ben Moffitt, Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis is the heart and soul not only of the defense but also of the team. Nicholas piled up seven sacks last season and has NFL written all over him, and Moffitt and St. Louis combined for 25 tackles for loss. As long as you're not running toward them, they are fun to watch.

Fall questions: We'll begin where spring questions always begin at USF: quarterback. Before practice began, it looked as though it might be the first controversy-free QB situation in years. Not only was the job given to sophomore Carlton Hill but Leavitt and offensive coordinator Rod Smith even visited Texas and Missouri in the offseason to see how those programs catered their offenses around an athletic signal caller similar to Hill. So what happened? Well, the anointed one missed the first half of practice to focus on academics and Pat Julmiste started to show the consistency he so obviously had lacked the past two years. Throw in the accurate arm of redshirt freshman Matt Grothe, and we have a debate under center yet again. All three had plenty of faults, and no one took charge, but for now at least, Julmiste has the slightest of leads. Stay tuned. … Does anyone want to replace record-setting RB Andre Hall? Even with the struggles of the passing game the last couple of years, the Bulls could always count on Hall. But now the job falls to redshirt freshman Moise Plancher or sophomore Ricky Ponton, neither of whom strikes fear into Big East defensive coordinators at the moment. It's not as though this offense was all that good in the first place -- remember the shutout in the bowl game? Now, the running game is an unknown and all three starters on the interior of the O-line are new. On the surface at least, it looks as though things are going to get worse on this side before they get better. … Leavitt always emphasizes the importance of the front four on the defensive side, but he has some gaping holes to deal with this season. Three of the starters have departed, including end Terrence Royal and his 10 sacks from last year. There's some experience at the vacated nose tackle spot, but not on the ends. … With an offense that at times seems immune to the end zone, the importance of a solid punter and kicker is exacerbated. Well, the Bulls lost a three-year starter at punter, and kicker Kyle Bronson decided to transfer. Plenty of players had an opportunity at both those spots this spring, but nobody took charge of either. This could be a problem.

Syracuse Orange
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Wake Forest
9/9 Iowa
9/16 at Illinois
9/23 Miami (Ohio)
9/30 Wyoming
10/7 Pittsburgh
10/14 at West Virginia
10/21 Louisville
10/28 at Cincinnati
11/11 at South Florida
11/18 Connecticut
11/25 at Rutgers

2005 overall record:
1-10
Conference record:
0-7

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Damien Rhodes (900 yds)
Passing: Perry Patterson* (1,504 yds)
Receiving: Rice Moss* (359 yds)
Tackles: Kelvin Smith* (84)
Sacks: Ryan LaCasse (9)
Interceptions: Anthony Smith (6)

Spring answers: At long last, it looks as though the Orange might have a definitive answer at quarterback -- at least until the season starts. If senior Perry Patterson shows the same improvement and confidence he displayed this spring, Joe Fields and true freshman Andrew Robinson won't have much of a chance. Patterson lost some weight, took over a leadership role and finally looks comfortable in the West Coast offense. … Of course, receivers actually getting open and catching the ball was a nice little addition. That always helps. By any estimation, the 'Cuse receivers were awful last season, never putting the quarterbacks in a good position. There were signs of hope this spring, though. Rice Moss, hampered by thumb and hamstring issues the past two years, is completely healthy again, and it showed. And JC transfer Taj Smith, with his speed and soft hands, has brought a level of competitiveness that hasn't been seen with this group in the last couple of years. Also for the first time in a while, the program can boast a tall and athletic receiving corps, which is essential in the West Coast scheme. … The coaching staff is very high on guard Ryan Durand, who saw significant time late last season and looked like a rock this spring. He's one of those weight room freaks the Orange need more of on the line.

Fall questions: OK, so parts of the offense showed some promise this spring. But honestly, is it even possible the unit could've gotten any worse? Syracuse ranked near the bottom of every single major offensive category last year and didn't score more than 17 points in any Big East game. Only two teams in the country produced fewer yards (257 ypg); only three scored fewer points (13.8 ppg); and none converted on third downs at a worse rate (21 percent). So, can new coordinator Brian White, who certainly directed some explosive offenses at Wisconsin, make a difference? He has said he will design the plays around what the offense can do, but do we really know what the offense can do at this point? The line was nothing short of horrible in 2005, so maybe the loss of three starters is an addition by subtraction. But it's still a very young group with plenty of questions. The same goes for the tailback group after the graduation of Damien Rhodes. Three sophomores (Curtis Brinkley, Paul Chiara and Kareem Jones) competed this spring, and coach Greg Robinson didn't seem anxious to name a starter anytime soon. Translation: No one stood out. … The defense deserved better than a 1-10 record last fall, but it's not as though the unit didn't have its faults. The Orange gave up 187 yards a game on the ground and have to replace five starters on the front seven. The speed 'Cuse lost on the ends is of particular concern. Junior Cornelius Campbell had a solid spring, but this is still an unproven group. … What about the two vacated spots in the secondary? It's still a three-way battle (A.J. Brown, Reggie McCoy and Donta Herrod) to replace all-conference FS Anthony Smith and his six interceptions. The cornerback position opposite Tanard Jackson is even more muddled. Sophomore Nick Chestnut, who converted from receiver, is currently the leader of a large group.

West Virginia Mountaineers
2006 Schedule
9/2 Marshall
9/9 Eastern Washington
9/14 Maryland
9/23 at East Carolina
10/7 at Mississippi State
10/14 Syracuse
10/20 at Connecticut
11/2 at Louisville
11/11 Cincinnati
11/16 at Pittsburgh
11/25 South Florida
12/2 Rutgers

2005 overall record:
11-1
Conference record:
7-0

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Steve Slaton* (1,128 yds)
Passing: Pat White* (828 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Myles* (536 yds)
Tackles: Mike Lorello (82)
Sacks: Keilen Dykes* (5)
Interceptions: Dee McCann (4)

Spring answers: The play of Steve Slaton wasn't an answer to anything. It was an affirmation of just how good this kid is. Taking part in his first practice, the sophomore just seemed to grow more and more confident every week with what he was doing. As good as he was his freshman season, he will be even better this fall. And yes, that aching noise you just heard came from the rest of the Big East. … WR Brandon Barrett has had his share of troubles. A former Parade All-American, Barrett was academically ineligible in '04 and ran into some legal trouble early in '05. Losing his scholarship seemed to turn Barrett around, though. Judging by the spring, he can be an athletic nightmare for opponents when/if the Mountaineers decide to throw it. … Redshirt freshman Quinton Andrews can be a hard-hitting nightmare for any opponent who dares to run too far past the line of scrimmage. A highly sought recruit two years ago, Andrews looked downright dangerous this spring. He has bulked up to 215, and he likes to hit -- hard. He might technically be in a battle with senior Abraham Jones, but it's tough to believe Andrews won't be starting right away in place of graduated Jahmile Addae.

Fall questions: Can the Mountaineers conquer the expectations game this time? After the team's great 2005 season, the media descended on Morgantown this spring. It's almost an annual tradition in college football for a young team to come out of nowhere and have a great season, return everyone, have a favorable schedule, become the darling pick of the "experts" -- then completely flop. Arizona, Auburn, Oregon State are just a few examples. You probably could even make a case for the disappointing 2004 West Virginia team. Now, this group doesn't show any sign of complacency and coach Rich Rodriguez has been pounding home the message, "Stay humble, but stay hungry." But you know how hungry the opponents will be after hearing all the hype. Can the Mountaineers survive being the target? … And can the new starting tackles be as effective in this kind of offense as Garin Justice and Travis Garrett were? That remains to be seen. Senior walk-on Damien Crissey and redshirt sophomore Jake Figner have emerged as the most comfortable players at the two spots, but Rodriguez admitted he won't be entirely comfortable about the situation until he sees more in August. … Can the defense be as aggressive this year after losing nose tackle Ernest Hunter and four of the five starters in the secondary? Addae and cornerbacks Dee McCann and Anthony Mims combined for 73 career starts, and safety Mike Lorello was about as dependable as you can get. Antonio Lewis will take over at one of the corners, but no one exactly grabbed the other spot and ran with it. Someone in the group of junior Larry Williams, sophomore Charles Pugh and redshirt freshman Kent Richardson needs to do just that.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.

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