Bill Stewart made two significant changes to his program last spring. First, in an effort to reach out to fans, West Virginia's hyper-ebullient 58-year-old coach jumped into the world of micro-blogging. A fixture on Twitter since March, he has been posting daily updates about preparations for the 2009 season. More important, he wasted no time in naming quarterback Jarrett Brown the successor to the departed Pat White—news Stewart delivered in person to the fifth-year senior in April. "I wanted to make it clear because Jarrett deserved it," says Stewart. "He's waited for this chance."
Brown arrived in Morgantown in the fall of 2005 but redshirted while White ascended to the starting role as a freshman. In three seasons as the backup, the 6'4", 223-pound Brown completed 81 of 125 throws for 839 yards and five touchdowns. He also fought to keep his chin up. After former coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan in December 2007, Brown considered giving up football for basketball, which he calls his "first love." He had been highly recruited in both sports out of Palm Beach Lakes High in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Mountaineers hoops coach Bob Huggins gave him a spot on the bench for the second half of the 2007--08 season, which included a run to the Sweet 16. Brown, a guard, averaged 1.0 point and 3.5 minutes in 13 games, but more important than his stat line was his new, upbeat outlook. "[Basketball] made me a better person," he says. "And when I came back to football, I was running like a deer."
Brown went on to have his best season, completing 73.3% of his passes and winning for the second time as a starter. Filling in for White, who had a concussion, against Syracuse last October, he played with a deep thigh bruise and a bruised shoulder (Brown was unable to raise his arm over his head) yet led the Mountaineers to a 17--6 victory.
Brown, who has one of the best arms in the Big East, won't be looking to bolt as soon as his pass protection breaks down, as White often did. Brown is ideal for the sort of downfield game that Stewart has been talking about installing at West Virginia since he became head coach in January 2008. Two weeks ago Stewart reinstated suspended junior receiver Jock Sanders, who was arrested for DUI last February, giving the Mountaineers a corps of wideouts capable of taking advantage of Brown's arm. Sanders led the team with 53 catches last season, while senior Alric Arnett had the most receiving yards (466). Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen has even been tinkering with injecting junior tailback Noel Devine, a blur with the ball in his hands, into the receiving mix.
The offensive line is more of a mystery. West Virginia brings back just one starter up front, and no one on the left side has ever started. The Mountaineers' spread should keep defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage on every play, but the unit has also worked to develop toughness by putting in extra practice time on short-yardage situations.
Brown knows he may need to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. "I've been working to see defenses better and recognize when the blitz is coming," he says. "I've been to school. And I feel confident."
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Three other players have big shoes to fill. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri The sophomore had a rough spring, but he has the size and the tools to become a star like his predecessor, Chase Daniel. Expect coach Gary Pinkel to take advantage of Gabbert's arm strength by adding long passes to the Tigers' offensive repertoire. Chris Galippo, MLB, USC The sophomore (below), who replaces Rey Maualuga, has All-America potential but must avoid further injury—he missed his first season because of a herniated disk—if he's going to make an impact. James Carpenter, LT, Alabama The juco transfer isn't likely to be as much of a force in the ground game as Andre Smith. But if Carpenter can keep outside pass rushers off QB Greg McElroy, his first season as a starter will be a success.
DAN FRIEND/WVU PHOTO SERVICES (BROWN)
FORWARD THINKER Brown should thrive in a new offense that will emphasize throwing downfield more often.
KEVIN TERRELL/ICON SMI (GALIPPO)