http://wvgazette.com/Sports/201005080541 Devine opportunity awaiting WVU back Before West Virginia University's spring football drills, Mountaineer offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen cut loose of a bold statement in regard to tailback Noel Devine. By Mitch Vingle Sports Editor Advertiser Before West Virginia University's spring football drills, Mountaineer offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen cut loose of a bold statement in regard to tailback Noel Devine. "We have," he said, "what we feel is the best runner in the country.'' OK, OK. So maybe it wasn't that bold. Devine has been one of the country's best college backs for the last three seasons. The runner is heading into his senior season. And, with apologies to Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline (sorry Dixie Chicks; you don't make the cut), a coach is going to stand by his man. Here's a question to ponder, though, on this Mother's Day: Might Mullen be correct? My answer: Could be. Much will depend on Devine. Much will depend on his 2010 offensive line. Much will depend on Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith, who will have to help unload defensive boxes expected to stop Devine. But No. 7 has been lucky for WVU. His 1,465-yard rushing season in 2009 was the fourth-best in Mountaineer history. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior has rushed for 3,381 yards (an average of 6.5 per carry) since bursting onto the scene in Morgantown. He needs 1,783 yards (a 148.3 regular season average) to catch Avon Cobourne's 5,164-yard career record. That speaks volumes because West Virginia boasts a fine history of running backs from Cobourne to Steve Slaton and Amos Zereoue back to Kerry Marbury, Artie Owens and others. But back to the original argument. Could Devine be the best in the nation in 2010? It will be tough for the back, but, yes, Devine has an outside shot at the claim. Here's the deal. NFL Draft Scout's service has the Mountaineer as the No. 3 senior in regard to pro potential for next season. No. 1 is Penn State's Evan Royster, a 6-1, 213-pound back who had 1,169 yards and an 89.9 average last season with six touchdowns. No. 2 is Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, a 6-foot, 214-pound back who had 705 yards and averaged 58.8 while sharing the load with Chris Brown, who was signed and waived by the Denver Broncos. Then comes Devine, who, according to the service, is projected as a first- or second-round Devine opportunity awaiting WVU back Before West Virginia University's spring football drills, Mountaineer offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen cut loose of a bold statement in regard to tailback Noel Devine. By Mitch Vingle Sports Editor Page 2 of 2 Advertiser Understand that doesn't take into account the underclassmen. There's this fellow named Mark Ingram out there from Alabama who happened to win the Heisman Trophy in 2009. And if you check out other such scouting services you'll see a host of other names ranked with the aforementioned trio, like Clemson's Jamie Harper, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams, Wisconsin's John Clay and Kansas State's Daniel Thomas. There are sophomores like Pitt's Dion Lewis to consider. One service at College Football News doesn't list Devine among its Top 15 running backs. Of course, that's nonsensical. Devine will enter the season as one of the nation's premier backs. "He brings speed and a change of direction," Mullen said. "His skill set in those areas is as good as anyone's. Plus, he has a resume. He's progressively gotten better, which is the mark of a really good player.'' Devine certainly will get his share of work. "We need him to be our team MVP,'' Mullen said. "In the last two years, he's been with NFL-type quarterbacks in Pat White and a fifth-year quarterback [Jarrett Brown] that dominated the ball. "This year, he's a senior and will have to dominate. He'll be our MVP. He'll have to be.'' Don't misunderstand. Mullen has plenty of confidence in Smith, his quarterback. "People will find out Geno's pretty good,'' said the coordinator. "They'll go together.'' If so, it could give Devine a shot at Cobourne's rushing record. "I just hope he runs well enough that we can win all our games,'' Mullen said. "Does he have a chance? Sure. Will he have the opportunity? Yes - as long as the team comes first.'' So the opportunity will be there. The talent certainly is there. Now it's up to the player, his teammates and coaches to show that Devine truly is divine. And truly among the nation's best. "Clearly,'' Mullen said, "he's in the conversation.'' Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvin...@wvgazette.com or follow him at http://twitter.com/MitchVingle.