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Spring is a time for renewal, and in college football, replacing.
It's sometimes jarring to go to a team's first spring practice and see new players wearing the familiar numbers of past legends. But the constant influx of new names and faces is part of what makes the sport great.
Several teams in the Big East face some major retooling projects this spring. Here's a look at the five biggest shoes to fill in the league:
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|Jarret Brown, who was 2-0 when filling in for Pat White, will likely take over as starter.|
1. Pat White, West Virginia: How do you replace an icon? White may go down as the best player in Mountaineers' history, and his singular talents dictated an entire offensive philosophy. At least Jarrett Brown has some experience at filling in for White. The senior has started two games in his career when White was hurt and won both, including a 41-39 triple-overtime victory over Rutgers to end the 2006 regular season. Brown isn't as fast as White, but he's big (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), has a strong arm and won't be asked to run as much in a more pass-friendly offense. Brown needs to have a strong spring, or he could face a challenge from hotshot incoming recruit Eugene Smith this fall.
2. LeSean McCoy, Pitt: McCoy scored 21 touchdowns, rushed for 1,403 yards and was a threat to break off a huge run on every play for the Panthers. Now he's gone after two spectacular seasons, and there's no experienced back on the roster. The job is wide open, and this spring will give players like Shariff Harris, Kevin Collier and Chris Burns a chance to show what they can do. Incoming freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham will be given a look this summer, as well. Coach Dave Wannstedt isn't afraid to play a true freshman at tailback if he's ready.
3. Donald Brown, UConn: Brown not only led the nation in rushing in 2008, he basically was the entire Huskies offense by the end of the year. It's highly unlikely that one replacement will be able to match his 2,000-plus rushing yards. But Connecticut does have some options in the backfield. Jordan Todman, a smaller, shiftier runner than Brown, showed real promise as a freshman by averaging nearly six yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. Senior Andre Dixon actually led the team in rushing as a sophomore but was curiously absent most of '08, even before his late-season DUI arrest. He'll be a factor if he's meeting the necessary off-the-field requirements. UConn will likely spread the ball around more in its new offensive scheme this year.
4. Mike Teel, Rutgers: Kenny Britt also leaves a big void at receiver for Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights will find some playmakers. What they need most is a quarterback who can direct the offense and be a leader on and off the field, as Teel was. Teel had his problems at times, but he was also a three-year starter who threw for more than 6,500 yards and 45 touchdowns in his final two seasons. This is another competition that will be fun to watch in the spring and again in the summer. Senior Dom Natale and freshman D.C. Jefferson will get the bulk of the reps in the spring and try to get a leg up. When fall camp opens, all eyes will turn to celebrated recruit Tom Savage, and senior Jabu Lovelace will be back from a leg injury.
5. Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh: McKillop led the Big East in tackles his final two seasons and was the league's defensive player of the year in 2008. His ability to always be in the right place formed the backbone of Pitt's defense. Now someone else will have to man the crucially important middle linebacker spot. Senior Steve Dell, who served as McKillop's understudy last season, and sophomore Max Gruder will get first crack at winning the job. If they're not up to the task, Wannstedt may look to incoming freshman Dan Mason to fill McKillop's shoes.