- David Ubben, College Football
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Ever since the Mountaineers announced their intentions to play in the Big 12 last year, there has been plenty of blabbering about what West Virginia will or won't do in the league.
Very little of it has come from Dana Holgorsen. The offseason in Morgantown was about the Mountaineers.
But now? It's all about the Big 12. Nine opponents remain on West Virginia's schedule. All nine are Big 12 members, starting with Baylor in what should be a hyped opener Saturday at noon ET.
"It’s finally here. There hasn’t been a Big 12 game yet; there hasn’t been Big 12 preparation yet," Holgorsen said. "A lot of anticipation, not only in the state of West Virginia but across the country. There will be a lot of eyes on us. We’ve had that situation before. Got a lot of experienced kids and a program that’s pretty established and used to winning and used to being in the national spotlight."
Finally, indeed. West Virginia now begins the odd task of preparing for a conference game against an opponent it knows much less about than its most recent nonconference foe, Maryland.
The bordering states have played in each of the past three seasons and have met annually with a handful of exceptions since the 1940s. The last time West Virginia played Baylor was ... well, never. Saturday will be the first meeting between the two teams, the first trip to Morgantown for the Bears.
"You never know what to expect when you take a road trip. Nothing ever turns out exactly like you think it’s going to," Bears coach Art Briles said. "West Virginia football in general, it’d be safe to say, over the last decade, they’ve been a pretty dominant football program and certainly have not fallen off any since Dana got there."
The two coaches were on the same staff from 2000 to 2002 under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, so the faces on the opposite sideline won't be anything new for the men in charge. The two met in the Big 12, too, back in 2010 when Holgorsen coordinated Oklahoma State's offense in a lopsided 55-28 win over Baylor.
Everyone else on the sidelines and all the sights outside of them? Totally foreign to the Bears.
Still, Holgorsen's taking it upon himself to educate his team this week on what's on the way to Milan Puskar Stadium this weekend.
"Our job as coaches is to get players as familiar with their opponent as much as you possibly can, and that’s not only from a personnel standpoint but a mentality standpoint from their coaching staff to the scheme, what their attitude will be like on game day to what the color of their uniforms are and where they’re from and the history of their program," Holgorsen said. "It’s our job as coaches to get them familiar with their opponent, regardless of if it’s Baylor or somebody like Maryland last week who they were incredibly familiar with. So each team is different, but our job is to get those guys ready this week and get them as prepared as we possibly can."
Holgorsen is uniquely qualified for that task considering his history in the Big 12 with nearly a decade at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State combined. His staff has plenty of experience in the league, too, with defensive coordinator Joe DeForest logging 11 years at Oklahoma State and running backs coach Robert Gillespie and graduate assistant Andrew McGee (former Oklahoma State cornerback).
"I’ve made reference to this for quite some time now. It certainly can’t hurt, our familiarity with Baylor as far as what kind of a team they are, what their mindset is, we know them very well," Holgorsen said. "There’s a lot of guys on our staff that have coached with them or coached against them, so all that stuff can’t hurt any."
Few on the Bears' staff know what Baylor will find after flying almost 1,300 miles to Morgantown.
"They are going to have a good stadium; it's not like it's going to be a big first-time deal for them," Briles told reporters this week. "They have been doing things right up there for a long time."
Baylor already experienced a hyped atmosphere Friday night in Monroe, La., but beat the Warhawks, 47-42. The Bears say that experience helped them, and they might need that help Saturday. Still, entering the Mountaineers' first Big 12 game, Holgorsen knows what time it is.
"It’s conference time, which means we need to pick thinks up a little bit," Holgorsen said.
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