TCU, West Virginia have plenty to learn

TCU and West Virginia fans get a course on their new conference with a dozen tips about the Big 12.

Welcome to the Big 12, TCU and West Virginia. As with joining any club, you have to learn your way around the room a little bit. We're here to help.

TCU fans already know much of this, having played against Big 12 teams for a number years, both as a Southwest Conference member and as a non-conference foe. But for those who need a refresher, plus the West Virginia fans who have no idea what they are getting into, here are 12 Tips About the Big 12:

1.    Toughest place to play: Oklahoma
Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium can be a scary place for visitors. You might get trampled by the Sooner Schooner, and there are these guys called RUF/NEKS that go around shooting shotguns in the air.

But the OU football team is pretty intimidating, too. The Sooners' 41-38 loss to Texas Tech last year was their first loss in Norman in five seasons. Of course, it helps Oklahoma's home record that the Sooners play Texas at a neutral site every year, but it's still not a place to take lightly.

2.    Best tailgating: Iowa State
The spacious parking lots around Jack Trice Stadium are always filled with rows and rows of traditional tailgating before games. The smelled of grilled pork wafts through the air -- pork is big in Iowa. The tailgating scene is big, too.

3.    Know your hand signals
Most college fans know the "Hook'em Horns" sign flashed by University of Texas fans -- and that Oklahoma's unofficial hand signal is the upside down version of it. But back in the Southwest Conference days, nearly all the schools had a hand signal. Baylor's is the bear claw. Texas Tech's is "Guns Up" sign, a finger pistol. TCU fans make a peace sign with the fingers curled, representing the "horns" of a Horned Frog.

So West Virginia fans, if you see opponents flashing hand signs at you, it's not an insult. Well, unless it only involves the middle finger.

4.    Best college town: Lawrence, Kan.
Lawrence is how Hollywood envisions a college town: small, Midwestern with lots of charming places and traditions. It's also a heck of a fun place to hang out on Mass Ave. (Massuchusetts Avenue) in the cozy downtown area.

5.    Bucket list game: Red River Rivalry
If you can only see one Big 12 game, it has to be the annual shootout between Texas and OU at the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. This game is filled with traditions and lore and regularly impacts the national title chase. The stadium is divided right down the 50 yard line: Crimson on one half and Burnt Orange on the other. The game is played every October in the middle of the Texas State Fair, which adds to the flavor and atmosphere. Eating a corny dog and riding a few rides takes the sting away from a loss.

6.    Toughest fans: Texas Tech
West Texas people are some of the friendliest you'll ever meet, but Texas Tech football games can send them into a frenzy. They used to toss tortillas onto the field, until that got so out of hand officials had to put a stop to it. During big games, it's not unusual for students to break rows of bleachers by stomping on them.

And after a win over Texas A&M in 2001, a group of Tech fans stormed the field, tore down the goal posts, then tried to shove them into the visitor's seating section. As you can imagine, that didn't sit too well with the Aggies and a fight ensued.

7.    Best Pit Stop: The Czech Stop
The crossroads of college football in Texas is a little Czech bakery in West, Texas, situated on I-35 just north of Waco.

On fall Saturdays, fans cross paths going to and from games in Austin, College Station, Waco and even Oklahoma. At the Czech Stop you can fill your tank with gas and your tummy with kolaches -- a traditional Czech pastry filled with your choice of fruit, cheese or meat.

8.    Longest road trip: Manhattan, Kan.
Too bad there's not a Czech Stop in Kansas. The drive from Kansas City to Manhattan for Kansas State games is only about 126 miles, but it sure seems longer.

There's not much to look at along the toll road to Manhattan, other than a zig-zag through Topeka. It's not hard to imagine why Kansas State struggled so long before Bill Snyder took over and became a living legend.

Of course, it is possible to fly into Manhattan these days. But that takes all the, uh, fun out of it.

9.    Sticker shock
If you see a car or truck with the Longhorn logo upside down, it's not being driven by a dyslexic Texas fan. That's an Oklahoma fan. As stated before, the upside-down Longhorn is basically an alternate logo for Oklahoma.

And if you see a Longhorn stick with the horns "sawed off" -- that's an Aggie. But you don't have to worry about those folks any more.

10.    Best place for a long weekend: Austin
If you're going to a Texas game, there's lots more to see and do than just the game. Austin is a great city to just hang out, even if hitting the bars on Sixth Street isn't your thing. There's a reason a number of Hollywood stars have decided to live in the Austin area. The Hill Country just outside of Austin offers scenic views, and Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas, is just a quick trip south.

Of course, there's also the notorious Austin traffic. But that's the price of popularity.

11.    Best Hoops Mecca: Kansas
If college hoops is your thing, you probably already know this one. KU's basketball tradition is so rich, Dr. James Naismith, the man who invented the sport, once coached there. A trip to Allen Fieldhouse for a game is not to be missed. It's the college basketball version of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, although the home team wins with a lot more regularity.

Runner-Up: Gallager-Iba Arena in Stillwater
Oklahoma State has its own share of basketball history, starting with the legendary Henry Iba. When the Cowboys are good, it feels like the lid will come off the arena. And if it does, T. Boone Pickens will pay for a new one.

12.    Don't believe the naysayers
Competition breeds bitterness, and the Big 12 is as competitive a conference as there is. But don't buy into the worn-out, negative stereotypes lobbed by Big 12 fans at each other. Austin isn't just a bunch of hippies, just as Waco isn't full of strict tea totalers (otherwise the Big O -- a frosty goblet of beer -- wouldn't be so popular at George's). Lubbock isn't dry and dusty -- OK, it's dry -- and there's more to Stillwater than Eskimo Joe's (although that's a pretty good hang, too.)

The Big 12 just said goodbye to a couple of schools that did a lot of complaining. It's welcoming two schools that really want to be in the Big 12. Will that lead to a spirit of unity and friendship? Nah. But it's still a fun league.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire

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