West Virginia ready to make Big 12 debut
DALLAS — For a school heading into a brand-new league in a different part of the country, West Virginia couldn't ask for a better coach-slash-tour guide than Dana Holgorsen.
"Nine of my last 12 years have been in the Big 12," said Holgorsen, a former assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. "We understand it's going to be challenging. But we're excited about the opportunity, that's for certain."
The excitement and passion for Big 12 football is what Holgorsen stresses to curious Mountaineers fans accustomed to playing in the Big East.
"The one thing that I've been going around telling the people of West Virginia is, what we're getting into is the same thing we've got at home," Holgorsen said. "And that didn't necessarily exist in the conference we were in last year."
Quarterback Geno Smith can't wait to visit Big 12 venues. He's already received a warm welcome to the league by being voted the preseason Offensive Player of the Year by Big 12 media members.
"I'm looking forward to all of them," Smith said. "I hear all about the cowbells and the fans in Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State."
Of course, the reception might be different in October and November than it is in July, especially if Smith and the West Virginia offense live up to their billing.
Holgorsen spent eight seasons under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and then went on to direct the high-scoring offenses at Houston and Oklahoma State.
He finished his first year as head coach at West Virginia with a 70-33 dismantling of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. But Smith, who passed for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, says the offense can do better.
"People like to talk about the 70 points in the Orange Bowl, but the game before that we scored 10 points against South Florida [actually 16 offensive points in a 30-27 win]," Smith said. "We want to make sure that every game is the Orange Bowl for us."
Every Big 12 road game might seem like a bowl trip considering the distance between Morgantown and the rest of the league. Holgorsen downplayed concerns about travel.
"Basically the road games are going to be an airplane ride," Holgorsen said. "So you're going to jump on a plane and fly a couple of hours no matter where you go. From there it's just all about routine. I don't view it as being a big deal."
It's a bigger deal to West Virginia's fans, who don't have access to charter flights like the football team does. Holgorsen said fans accustomed to making a lot of road trips may have to make an adjustment.
"The days of being able to take 15-20,000 people to different venues, those days don't exist in the Big 12," Holgorsen said. "Everybody packs their stadium and everybody gives the opponent about 4,000 tickets.
"So my suggestion to the people of West Virginia is to make sure you come to every home game, and then pick a road game and go travel once a year."
West Virginia probably won't be greeted warmly by Big 12 opponents after being picked to finish second in the preseason media poll, behind Oklahoma. Opponents will want to make a strong impression on the new kid on the block, but Holgorsen said that's what the school signed up for.
"What's awesome about the Big 12, as opposed to where we were last year, is just the national exposure, and it's going to be West Coast to East Coast," Holgorsen said. "They're going to be put in some venues and be able to shine if they can handle that."
West Virginia's players say they've heard a lot about the Big 12 and can't wait to finally find out for themselves.
"We're all ready to go," center Joe Madsen said. "We're not tired of talking about our expectations in the Big 12, but we just want to play."
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire