Big East Previews - Part 7

With only about one month to go until camp begins, will conclude with our tour around the Big East Conference. For our seventh and final installment, we finish off with the defending Conference Champion, West Virginia.



West Virginia tied for the Big East crown in 2003 and Rich Rodriguez was named the league's Coach of the Year, but Rodriguez still sees room for growth for the Mountaineers.
"Our program has grown each year, but we still have a lot of work to do," Rodriguez said.  "We need to be getting better in our fundamentals and technique; that's one of the most important objectives every spring, and it's where you strengthen the foundation of your program. We need to work each position to improve in those areas."

West Virginia loses just four starters on each side of the ball, so there's quite a bit of expectations -- such as a Big East championship -- following spring
practice. Senior Rasheed Marshall leads an experienced offense that will be looking to build on the potency it showed in 2003.  Defensively, the Mountaineers should be even better than a year ago, when they started the season with a very inexperienced unit. This year, WVU has to find a replacement for LB Grant Wiley, a consensus All-American and Nagurski Award finalist.

Yes, there is some work to do before the season begins, but the Mountaineers are feeling pretty good after racking up a 12-2 conference mark over the past two seasons. Feeling good, but not satisfied.



PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: Ranked as high as fifth nationally by Athlon, but both Lindy's and Street & Smith's have the Mountaineers at 15th. WR Chris Henry, second-team All-America by Athlon.

KEY GAMES: West Virginia could sweep through a watered-down Big East this season, but that won't prove much on a national scale. To get full national respect -- and to have a respectable showing in the BCS standings -- the Mountaineers need to at least play well in two big non-conference games -- vs. Maryland on Sept. 18 and at Virginia Tech on Oct. 2.

THE MINDSET: The Mountaineers are going to try not to replicate last year's start, in which they began the season 1-4. Getting off to a fast start could build the confidence of the squad, which could translate to a season to remember. In this transition year for the Big East, the league will never be easier to win than right now.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: LB Grant Wiley was a major presence for the Mountaineers' defense, finishing his career as the school's all-time tackles leader. Replacing his leadership is going to be tough to do as well, but coach Rich Rodriguez feels like senior MLB Adam Lehnortt could be up to the challenge.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm already looking forward to this season. There are a lot of exciting players who our fans will love to watch." -- Head coach Rich Rodriguez on his
team's prospects for 2004.



PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARS: Senior QB Rasheed Marshall is hoping to go out with a bang. A threat to run the ball, Marshall improved as a passer last season, making him a true double threat for defenses. Junior WR Chris Henry was a marvel in his first season at WVU, and he'll look to build on last year's Big East Rookie of the Year campaign in 2004.

PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARS: Senior MLB Adam Lehnortt had 139 tackles and five sacks in 2003. He's will be asked to be an impact player on and off the field for the
Mountaineers' defense. Junior CB Adam "Pac-Man" Jones is an explosive player who scored on fumble, interception and kick returns last season.

INJURY IMPACT: LB Adam Lehnortt was sidelined for all of spring practice following offseason shoulder surgery. He should be fully recovered for the fall.

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Mike and the Big Dog's LLC

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