Introducing WVU to its home in the Big 12
February, 15, 2012
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Milan Puskar Stadium offers new experiences for Big 12 fans.After a bit of a delay, thanks to some legal wrangling, West Virginia is finally free.
The Big East and the Mountaineers have settled their lawsuit, and West Virginia is officially on its way to the Big 12 for 2012.
That means it's off the Big East blog and onto the Big 12 blog, too.
To help the Big 12 get to know its newest member, Big 12 blogger David Ubben asked Big East blogger Andrea Adelson for her thoughts.
David Ubben: AA, Les Miles had my favorite quote of the 2011 season in relation to West Virginia. "They were having a football party and invited us. I knew our guys would show up."
You were there, Andrea. What can Big 12 fans expect when they go to Morgantown? Is it a football party every weekend?
Andrea Adelson: Define "every weekend." West Virginia fans show up for the super gigantic games against teams like LSU and Pitt, but there has been concern that the fan base is "fair weather." Note -- 46,000 fans came out to watch Bowling Green. Now, the truth is, no fan in America gets up for the cupcake patsy schedule. But this rubbed Dana Holgorsen the wrong way, and he ripped on the fans after that game:
"All I heard about was how much this meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia. This was the NFL team in town and we're going to be here to support you. Well, having 40,000 people at a game isn't doing that. ... We do our best every week to fix what the problems are offensively, defensively and special teams wise. Well, what's everybody across the state of West Virginia, including the student body, doing to fix the fact that our players had to play in front of 40,000 people?"
Now, you remember Holgy from his days at Oklahoma State. OK maybe not, since there were not many of them. But he likes stirring the pot, and I firmly believe he did that to motivate a fan base that had become dispassionate with good ol' Bill Stewart "I never met a punt I didn't like" in charge. The fact is that West Virginia has the most spirited fan base in the Big East and averaged 8,000 more fans than Louisville, which ranked No. 2 in the league in attendance in 2011. The atmosphere is fun, and was absolutely electric against LSU.
I anticipate many more crowds like that with teams like Texas and Oklahoma appearing on the schedule. West Virginia fans have gotten a bad rap nationally because of the couch burning and rowdiness. But in the two games I attended last season, I thought everybody behaved themselves accordingly.
And hey, they now serve alcohol in the stadium. I'm sure Big 12 fans can drink to that.
DU: No doubt about the couch burning. Apparently West Virginia passed some legislation to make it stop, but I always found it sort of endearing and mostly harmless, albeit destructive. Maybe that's just me.
Holgorsen definitely speaks his mind, and I know fans will be fired up about alcohol sales in the stadium. What about once fans get to the stadium? Any in-game traditions they should be prepared for? Remember, this is the same league that had Texas A&M for its entirety. Visiting fans are prepared for a little weirdness.
AA: You mean weirder than couch burning?
Well, the Mountaineers mascot runs onto the field with the team toting a real rifle. Each year his costume is tailored to fit just him. But my favorite tradition has to be the playing of "Country Roads" at the end of each home victory. Fans stay in the stands and join the team in signing the song, which became a tradition in 1980 after John Denver dedicated Mountaineer Field with the song.
DU: Now that, I can get behind. Big 12 fans might be a little too sore to enjoy that, but I love me some John Denver. I've heard stories about the John Denver performance. I'd love to see somebody dig up some video.
I asked you this about TCU, but fans know Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Dana Holgorsen. WVU still has a lot of star power. Who are a few players Big 12 fans should get to know? And why?
AA: Acquaint yourselves with Stedman Bailey immediately. Smith and Austin have the flash, but Bailey is the guy who consistently makes all the catches and is the go-to guy when the team is in need of a first down. As good as Austin was last season, he also kicked himself for a bunch of dropped passes throughout the course of the season.
Bailey led the Big East in receiving yards per game with 98.4. Both he and Austin went for more than 1,000 yards receiving last season, the first time in school history two players reached that mark.
Many of us have been waiting on Ivan McCartney to arrive and he just might in 2012. The cousin of Chad Ochocinco, McCartney is crazy fast but has not quite lived up to expectations. He showed flashes last season but a knee injury really set him back late in the year. On defense, watch out for cornerback Brodrick Jenkins. He was terrific late in the year and should be the team's top cover cornerback with Keith Tandy gone.
DU: Thanks for the heads up, AA. We'll definitely check those guys out.
On to the transition itself. What do you think is the biggest difference between the Big 12 and the Big East?
What's going to be the hardest part of this move for the Mountaineers?
AA: Well for one, the quality of the competition is different. There is no "top" to the Big East the way there is in the Big 12. That has been the biggest reason nobody respects the Big East.
It is one thing to be competitive week in and week out. You mentioned no New Mexicos on the schedule, and that is true. Every team any week has a chance to win. But the Big East has been in need of a team or two to absolutely dominate in order to get that national notoriety the way Oklahoma and Texas have in the Big 12. So that is going to be an adjustment. Playing nine conference games is going to be huge.
Remember, the Big East had only eight teams, so it played a seven-game league schedule. Bump that up two games, and you are not talking about any gimmes on the schedule. I also think losing the Backyard Brawl is going to be difficult.
West Virginia is going from a league with its fiercest rivals into completely unfamiliar terrain. Who is going to be its rival? It is going to be difficult for fans to travel to games as well because of the distance. There are no drivable games the way there are in the Big East. So, I think there are a whole mess of difficulties in this transition.
DU: The Big 12 has experienced too much of that, too. I'll be sad to see the Backyard Brawl join the Border War and Lone Star Showdown as defunct rivalries. At least when the creation of the Big 12 ended the OU-Nebraska rivalry, it only ended its status as an annual game. They played periodically.
As for WVU's rival, nobody jumps out to me in the Big 12. Oklahoma State makes the most sense with the Dana connection, but OSU fans still love him more than anything. Nobody blamed him for leaving for a head-coaching job at a great program like WVU, even if he only stuck around Stillwater for one season.
Our final question is the most important one:
I've never been to West Virginia or Morgantown. I'm assuming most of the Big 12's fans and blog readers haven't been, either. Give us a few recommendations for sights, eats and other spots we should make sure to frequent once we make our way down those country roads.
AA: Well, I am relatively new to the Big East blog, but I did get down to two West Virginia games last season. The easiest option is to fly into Pittsburgh, which is about an hour drive away from Morgantown. I stayed there both times before driving to Morgantown for the games.
Primanti Bros. is well known for its ridiculous sandwiches, but I made sure to eat at DeBlasio's for some down-home Italian food -- my favorite. Everything there is good and tastes homemade.
For some establishments in West Virginia, I turned to my good friend Patrick Southern, who writes about the Mountaineers for CBSSports.com and BlueGoldNews.com. Patrick says anybody who comes to West Virginia must try a pepperoni roll -- the unofficial state food.
According to Patrick, the best bakeries in the state are in Fairmont (about 15 minutes south) and Clarksburg (about another 15 minutes south from there). Stop in at Country Club Bakery (the original), D’Annunzio’s and Tomaro’s. As for a good place for grub in Morgantown itself, there is the Varsity Club, a sports bar located next to the football stadium along Don Nehlen Drive. It calls itself "The Home of the MountainBeers." There is also Mario’s Fishbowl. The walls are covered with notes people have written over the years. Dana Holgorsen wrote one himself.
DU: Good to know. I'll definitely check those out. And readers, keep checking the blog all day. There's going to be a whole lot of Mountaineers going on.