Entering 2010, Penn State, Pitt and West Virginia all have players they hope can have special seasons, carry their teams and, at the end of the year, be in the running for the Heisman Trophy. Evan Royster, Dion Lewis and Noel Devine have all positioned themselves well for runs at college football's most enduring symbol of greatness. Over the course of the week, we'll take a look at each running back, how he's positioned now, what he needs to do to keep himself, and a prediction of what might ultimately happen. Today, SB Nation Pittsburgh's WVU writer Aaron Hawley looks at Noel Devine.
What has Devine done to put himself in the Heisman discussion to this point?
Four years ago Noel Devine arrived on campus in Morgantown as arguably the most high-profile recruit in the school's history. In his first three seasons Devine grew from a change of pace back to the featured runner in Bill Stewart's offense, filling highlight reels with long touchdowns and ankle breaking moves. Simply put, Devine is one of the most exciting players in not just the Big East, but in all of college football. The 1,465 rushing yards that Devine posted last season is the fourth most in school history, and Devine currently sits at fifth all time on WVU's career rushing list. Barring injury, Devine looks certain to finish his career as one of WVU's top three rushers of all time.
What does Devine need to do to win the Heisman?
The first step is to get Devine the ball early and often. He has only averaged 17 carries a game throughout the last two seasons, something Bill Stewart has taken quite a bit of flack for when the team's not winning. There have always been doubts about Devine's size and durability, so WVU has always shied away from giving him the 25-plus carries per game his talents deserve. For Devine to even be invited to New York at the season's end he has to put up gaudy numbers, something along the lines of 1,600 yards rushing and 20-plus touchdowns. The yardage could come if WVU gives him the ball enough, but the touchdowns might not. Ryan Clarke looks to handle the goal line duties this year, so we could see a lot of Mountaineer drives that are propelled by Devine but finished by Clarke.
What might keep Noel Devine from winning the Heisman?
The first strike against Devine is that his jersey says "West Virginia" on the front. While the best player on Texas, Florida, USC or Oklahoma may start the year on top of the Heisman leader board, Devine will have to work his way into the discussion. A scintillating early season performance in primetime against LSU could put his name into the discussion early, but to stay there, he'll have to post great numbers week in and week out. I'm not talking "very good" numbers, I'm talking borderline science-fiction numbers. Many college football pundits and Heisman voters won't be watching the ‘Eers, so Devine's stat lines will need to be so impressive they jump out of the box score the next day. If Coach Bill Stewart decides to go with a 50/50 platoon with Devine sharing the carries with power-back Clarke, then Devine may not get the touches to make it happen. Devine also needs to lead the Mountaineers to a one-loss season, or better, to be considered. Heisman voters don't flock to players who lead their teams to 8-4 records and third place conference finishes.
I would love to say "this is going to happen" or even "I could see this happening", but I just can't. West Virginia has never had a Heisman winner, and I just don't expect to see it happen in 2010. While the ‘Eers definitely will field a squad capable of a Top Ten finish, I just don't see good ole number seven hoisting college football's most prestigious trophy. The best ‘Eers fans can ask for is that Devine is in the running for the Heisman throughout the season, which would send an important message to potential recruits: come to WVU and run the football. The true test of Noel Devine this season won't even come on the field, but in the locker room. It's now his turn to be the Mountaineers' leader and hopefully lead the team to a Big East Championship and a return to the bright lights of a BCS bowl game.