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Posted: Tuesday July 29, 2008 4:34PM; Updated: Tuesday July 29, 2008 9:38PM

WVU QB White to throw more, USF sets sights high, more

Story Highlights
  • Mountaineers picked to win the Big East as Stewart takes over for Rodriguez
  • What a difference a year makes for 'rebuilding' Louisville
  • Pittsburgh expects star RB LeSean McCoy to be even better this season
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Pat White
Last season Pat White threw 14 TD passes and also rushed for 14 touchdowns.
Bill Frakes/SI

By Ken Davis, Special to SI.com

NEWPORT, R.I. -- There are plenty of indications that West Virginia's Bill Stewart doesn't fit the mold of the conventional college football coach. At the top of that list might be the fact he actually wanted to see senior quarterback Pat White -- West Virginia's Heisman Trophy candidate -- in a Mountaineers baseball uniform last spring.

"He said, 'Coach, I don't know if I can hit the curve ball,'" Stewart said. "And I said, 'Oh, Patrick. If I could hit the curve ball, I wouldn't be sitting here today. I love baseball.'"

White, a senior who is 26-4 as West Virginia's starting quarterback, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels as an outfielder in 2004 and 2007. The Cincinnati Reds took him in the 49th round last month. But White declined the option presented by Stewart in order to focus on his final shot at a national championship. Already recognized as the most versatile quarterback in the college game, White would like to convince NFL scouts and executives that there is a spot for him in the professional ranks.

Media members chose West Virginia, coming off an 11-2 season and 48-28 victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, as the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East at the conference's annual meeting day on Tuesday. The Mountaineers received 22 of 24 first-place votes.

Stewart is beginning his first season as successor to Rich Rodriguez, who departed for Michigan before the Fiesta Bowl win over the Sooners. It may not be a completely seamless transition, but Stewart understands White is the primary reason behind the lopsided preseason ballot.

"Pat White is the best option quarterback in the game," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He's a great player."

Stewart spent seven seasons as West Virginia's quarterback coach before moving up to associate head coach last season. His message to Mountaineers fans is to appreciate White's versatility and everything that will enable West Virginia to do this season.

"You need to savor that," Stewart said. "You need to stop and smell the roses. What we're seeing as an athlete and as a man, I've not seen many more like him. You take a guy like Patrick White and what he brings to an offense ... He's a Kordell Stewart, [Antwaan] Randle El, Warren Moon kind of guy. Now is he going to the NFL and throw for 40,000 yards like Warren Moon? No. There's only one of him also. But Patrick has all those intangibles that would make an NFL team very exciting."

Early projections for the 2009 NFL draft indicate White will rank relatively high among wide receivers. But an offensive philosophy that will encourage White to pass more this season could change some minds.

"I think we're going to put the ball in the hands of a lot more athletes," said White, who passed for 1,724 yards and rushed for 1,335 last season. "Everybody is going to get more touches. Spread the wealth."

West Virginia's running game will continue to be strong, with sensational sophomore Noel Devine replacing Steve Slaton. But offensive tackle Ryan Stanchek says there will be new wrinkles in the offense.

"We're going to throw more," Stanchek said. "It will give Pat more opportunities to show off his arm. I'm excited for him to have that opportunity. I hope there's some surprises -- a little bit of everything."

Leavitt bullish on USF

South Florida and Pittsburgh each received one first-place vote in the preseason poll. USF, coming off a breakthrough season 9-4 season that saw the Bulls climb to No. 2 in the Oct. 14 AP poll, was the choice for second place with 149 points, 40 behind West Virginia.

Second-best won't be good enough for USF coach Jim Leavitt, who is 79-47 since starting the program from scratch in 1997.

"Our goal is to win the league," Leavitt said. "We haven't won [the Big East] and we've been in it three years now. That's a little disappointing to us and I'm not getting any younger. You're not going to get a chance at credibility until you win a conference championship."

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