In picking out the group of signees that could be on the field for West Virginia in the fall of 2008, several factors are involved. Raw talent, of course, comes into play, but so does the definition of need. Thin spots of the depth chart typically offer more chances to play, but that's not an automatic, either. Coaches will figure out a way to juggle bodies or adjust schemes rather than play guys who are just a few months out of high school and not ready to perform on the college level.
There's also the consideration of positions -- rare are the quarterbacks or offensive linemen ready to take on the rigors of collegiate play. The same is often true of defensive linemen, but as we'll see in West Virginia's class, rules are sometimes made to be broken.
The other big factor to consider is spring practice. Players with the chance to go through spring drills have a leg up on those that arrive during the summer, or just in time for the fall session, but as we have seen in past year's that's not an automatic ticket to the travel squad.
So, with all those things in mind, here's a look at the players in West Virginia's incoming class with the best chance of avoiding a redshirt.
Tevita Finau: Junior college experience, plus need on the defensive line, plus outstanding talent. Barring injury or some other sort of unexpected occurrence, the Hawaii native will compete for playing time, if not a starting job, on Bill Kirelawich's unit.
Courtney Stuart: The juco factor again, plus need at all the safety positions, will put Stuart in a position to earn playing time. Learning his eventual spot in the defense will be a key factor.
Robert Sands: The biggest safety that West Virginia will have fielded in memory, the 6-6 Sands could be another answer at the position. With his wingspan, he figures to be a bigger distraction in passing lanes, and could be one of the steals of the class.
Larry Ford: Like Finau, a junior college performer with plenty of experience, as well as the strength and savvy to help immediately on the front line. With only four scholarship players on the defensive front, it won't be a surprise to see three or four of WVU's commits avoid a sit-out season.
Jeff Braun: A rugged lineman who seems to get bigger with every report. He'll likely mesh well with Kirelawich's demanding style. While he and the other linemen might not be ready from game one, look for steady improvement, and perhaps more playing time, as the year progresses.
Brantwon Bowser: The spring will be huge for Bowser, who will get the head start on other corners in the class. Will that be enough to earn a spot among the cornerbacks returning from last year's team?
Ryan Clarke: Clarke is in the unenviable position of trying to replace Owen Schmitt -- something of a no-win task. But the rugged Maryland native has the size and strength to challenge for time in this key role. If West Virginia's running game is to continue to hum along, it needs to have a rough and rowdy lead blocker on the field for some plays. Clarke figures to get the first shot at that job.
Tyler Urban: If WVU's passing game is to show any development, Urban could be a deciding factor. While he's probably not going to see 30 or 40 passes, West Virginia's new coaching staff would like to see more tight end involvement. And, oh yeah, he can probably block too.
Of course, it's a long way to the fall, and there are many chances for anyone on WVU's list of signees to make a mark and earn playing time. Fall camp, when the newcomers square off against the veterans, is especially critical in determining who sits and who plays. However, this group, along with others in the defensive line and secondary, appear to have the best chances at making their marks early at their new school.