Spring breakout players: West Virginia

May, 23, 2011
5/23/11
8:55
AM ET
We've come to the end of the line in our series looking at players who announced themselves as potential breakout performers for each Big East team this spring.

One last time, here's how I'm defining "breakout" status: players who haven't seen the field yet but showed they could be major contributors in 2011; players who have gotten some time but could move into much bigger roles this season; and players who have started but could blossom into stars.

Last but certainly not least, let's check in with West Virginia:
  • Vernard Roberts, Fr., RB: If you asked Mountaineers fans which running back recruit they were most excited about back on signing day, I think most would have mentioned Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison before Roberts. But Roberts has one great advantage: he enrolled early and learned the offense while going through spring practice. And with a muddled picture in the backfield, Roberts emerged as the top tailback as the spring came to a close, leading the team in rushing in both scrimmages and the Blue-Gold game. Roberts is no lock to hold the starting job all the way through the summer, but right now he's in the lead and anyone in that job is bound to put up huge numbers in Dana Holgorsen's system.
  • Josh Francis, LB, Soph: Like most junior college transfers, Francis was a bit lost at the start of practice this spring. But he could make up for a lot of mistakes with his top-flight speed. Getting to campus early should help his learning curve, and there is plenty of opportunity at linebacker, where three of the top four performers from last season are gone. The 6-foot-1, 214-pound Francis has a chance to make a Bruce Irvin-like impact because of his athleticism.
  • Stedman Bailey, WR, Soph.: Bailey had a nice redshirt freshman season, catching 24 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns in 2010. Look for those numbers to go way up in 2011 in Holgorsen's pass-happy system. Don't read too terribly much into spring-game results, but Bailey caught six passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns in his final public impression. Moved from an inside receiver position to out wide mid-spring, he really thrived and showed off his terrific catching ability. His existing chemistry with quarterback Geno Smith -- the two played at the same high school -- doesn't hurt either. A lot of receivers have a chance to have great seasons for the Mountaineers this season. Don't be surprised if Bailey surges to the head of the pack.

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