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Pitt, Penn State And West Virginia Football Look To Replace Stars In 2011

Can the three local college football teams replace departed stars?

Last summer here at SB Nation Pittsburgh, we did a series profiling star running backs for three local teams: Evan Royster represented Penn State, Noel Devine was the selection for West Virginia and Dion Lewis was the man for Pitt.

All three have since left their respective schools, either through graduation or early declaration for the NFL Draft. In their wake, new names will look to step up and make names for themselves.

Penn State remains without a quarterback as fall practice looms. Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin are expected to battle it out once camp arrives, but neither has achieved any level of real stardom, as both started some games last year with mixed results.

On the outside, Derek Moye will lead what should be a very solid stable of wide receivers for the Nittany Lions. After posting two solid seasons, however, the senior wideout is still looking for a real breakout campaign. Many hope he and fellow receiver Justin Brown will have big years, but right now, that's based more on perceived potential than anything else, as neither has shown the ability to dominate a game like former Penn State receivers Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams once did.

The player Penn State fans are probably most excited about heading into 2011 resides in the Lions backfield. Silas Redd rushed for 437 yards on 77 carries last season behind Royster, good enough for a 5.7 yard-per-carry average, and showed some great moves at times.

If there's a player many are expecting to step up and become a star, he's the guy, but he has yet to really establish himself. For that reason, Penn State will likely open the season without a big name to move the meter.

At Pitt, Tino Sunseri is entrenched as the starting quarterback, especially now that coach Todd Graham has suspended junior quarterback Anthony Gonzalez. Sunseri was less than spectacular in 2010, however, and as he adapts to Graham's new offense, it's likely he'll experience some growing pains in the early going.

The wide receiving corps has taken a hit as Jonathan Baldwin has bolted for the NFL. Mike Shanahan and Devin Street have shown flashes of potential, but neither has proven to be the home run threat Baldwin once was. In a pass happy offense, however, these guys and a few others will certainly get their chances.  

However, like at Penn State, running back is where the most potential star power rests for Pitt. Despite losing Dion Lewis, the Panthers will welcome back a real potential game-changer in Ray Graham, who rushed for 277 yards in a game against Florida International last season and broke off a number of long, electrifying runs. If he's going to establish himself as a household name this season, he'll have to become a little more consistent, but he's shown he can carry the team on his back at times, so Pitt fans are likely excited to see him out on the field this year.

Beyond Devine, no West Virginia tailback rushed for more than 300 yards in 2010. Ryan Clarke and Shawne Alston return as the team's two leading rushers from last season, but neither is established enough to be considered a start at this point.

Tavon Austin caught 58 passes for 787 yards last season and has some real potential on the outside for the Mountaineers. He could be a candidate to step up and grab some headlines as he looks to help replace the production of the departed Jock Sanders.

However, West Virginia fans are probably most pumped to see what quarterback Geno Smith can do in 2011. He was very good in his first season as the Mountaineers starter, throwing for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. and showed flashes of brilliance in 2010, especially in West Virginia's comeback win against Marshall early in the season.

The local teams will open 2011 with a lack of star power, but all three have players that could break out this season and establish themselves as the next group of local gridiron stars.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.