Can WVU handle the new Big 12 pressure?

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Big 12 teams already get a special satisfaction out of beating Oklahoma and Texas.

Can you imagine how much that pleasure would be amplified if the Sooners or Longhorns said "sayonara" to the Big 12?

Welcome to Dana Holgorsen's world in 2011, his first year as West Virginia coach.

Oklahoma and Texas were the Big 12's only teams to win conference titles from 2003 to 2010 until Oklahoma State broke through in 2011.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Kim Klement/US Presswire"There wasn't a team in the Big East last year that didn't want to beat West Virginia worse than anything that existed on their schedule," coach Dana Holgorsen said of 2011.
West Virginia had captured five Big East titles under three different coaches since 2003 before Holgorsen landed the Mountaineers' sixth in 2011 and seventh since joining the league in 1991.

"There wasn’t a team in the Big East last year that didn’t want to beat West Virginia worse than anything that existed on their schedule," Holgorsen said. "This program, these kids, the fan base, the support staff, everybody’s used to winning."

West Virginia won 70 games over the past seven seasons, earning the first 10-win season since 2007 in 2011. The Mountaineers reached double-digit wins despite facing a 2011 Big East that was gunning for the Big 12-bound school.

"You could just feel that was the one everybody wanted to win, and it was challenging," Holgorsen said. "All seven games we played in the Big East, you had to fight for everything that you got, and you had to have your A-game, otherwise you were going to get crept up and get beat by Syracuse."

The Mountaineers did exactly that, a head-scratching 49-23 Friday night road loss to the 5-7 Orange, who didn't win another game the rest of the season.

Such is life at the top of the Big East or any conference's heap, even if the Mountaineers weren't leaving. Holgorsen let out a groan remembering the pressure.

"You felt that a little bit at Houston, too, because it wasn’t like that at Tech or Oklahoma State. You know who the two teams were. It was always Texas or Oklahoma that had to be on guard because they were the two that won the Big 12 every year," said Holgorsen, who spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Houston before moving to Oklahoma State in 2010. "At Houston we were more of the upper echelon of Conference USA, so we had a big bulls-eye on our chest, but it was nothing compared to what I felt last year, because West Virginia just had so much success and was at the top of the Big East just based on preseason rankings every year and based on the amount of wins every year."

Other than being the new guy, WVU won't have nearly as big of a bulls-eye on their blue and gold jerseys in 2012, but the opponents will be better in the stronger Big 12.

Can West Virginia handle the heat and win the league during their first lap around Big 12 country come fall?

"One way to find out, right?" Holgorsen said.

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