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Happy day in Morgantown with Devine, Sanders news

1/14/2010

Clear room in the preseason Top 25 for West Virginia.

Yes, the news that running back Noel Devine and receiver Jock Sanders are both returning to school instead of going pro is that big. The Mountaineers now have to be considered one of the 2010 Big East favorites.

Of the two, I thought Devine was more likely to turn pro. After all, he's proved just about all he can at the college level and showed great improvement in his patience and vision in 2009. But he expressed a strong desire to graduate and bring a championship home for the Mountaineers. It will be great fun watching him once again battle Pitt's Dion Lewis for the league rushing title, if not the national mark.

I wonder how much of an influence Devine's decision had on Sanders. The two are close friends and must relish the thought of playing together one more year. Sanders would have been an interesting case for the NFL because of his size at wideout. Like Devine, he's listed at only 5-foot-7, but as NFL offenses become more spread out, they're starting to use smaller, shiftier players. In any event, Sanders was very productive this year after bouncing back from his offseason DUI arrest. Only Mardy Gilyard had more catches than Sanders this season, and he's also a threat in the backfield.

This means West Virginia's offense should be loaded in 2010, even with sophomore Geno Smith expected to become a first-year starter at quarterback. Ryan Clarke made great strides as a bruising option to Devine at tailback, while four of the five offensive linemen return (though they need to get better), along with receivers Bradley Starks and Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers' defense had only one senior starter (Reed Williams) in the Gator Bowl.

So the Mighty Mites -- as I like to call Devine and Sanders -- are back. This news, along with Greg Romeus' decision to stay at Pitt for his senior year, makes for a terrific couple of days for Big East fans.