Mountaineers won’t be out of their league in new Big 12

MORGANTOWN - It was shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday and chances are Dana Holgorsen had already been tipped off that something was happening.West Virginia's impending move to the Big 12 was still in its public-information infancy, but athletic director Oliver Luck had already begun informing his coaches one by one.Maybe Holgorsen had already received the call, maybe not. But the Mountaineer football coach wasn't letting on one way or another."I don't have any dealings with that. If I had an opinion I don't even know who I'd call,'' Holgorsen said. "If I called Oliver and Dr. [James] Clements [the school's president] they'd probably laugh at me and say, 'You need to worry about Rutgers.' Which is true - 100 percent true.''Still, there aren't many in West Virginia's athletic department who have enough relatively fresh information to be able to draw comparisons between the league West Virginia is leaving, the Big East, and the one it now seems certain to enter, the Big 12.Bob Huggins can speak to it. He was the basketball coach at Kansas State just four years ago. But he was only in the league for a year.Luck himself was around the Big 12 for years while living in Houston, but that was primarily as a fan.And then there is Holgorsen. He spent the last 11 years in the Southwest, all but two of them coaching in the Big 12. He was on the staff at Texas Tech for eight years and last year was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Only in 2008 and 2009 was he out of the league at Houston. Granted, Holgorsen might still be feeling his way through the Big East, but he has intimate knowledge of the Big 12.His take on the difference between the two, not surprisingly, begins with offensive football."It's different,'' Holgorsen said. "If you look at all the Big 12 - Texas, Baylor, [Texas] Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State - they're all spread [offenses]. Kansas State? Coach [Bill] Snyder's still doing things the way he did them 40 years ago, which is obviously being incredibly successful."I'm only two games into the Big East, but based on what I've seen it's a little different.''Even that is changing, though. West Virginia, of course, has been a spread team on offense for a decade now, but the Rich Rodriguez spread wasn't quite the same. But with the arrival of Holgorsen at West Virginia, Todd Graham at Pitt and a handful of shifts elsewhere, the Big East has been making the transition.
"I do think that the movement is coming East,'' Holgorsen said. "If you look at what we're bringing at West Virginia, at Pitt, at Louisville, at Cincinnati, there's a shift to where it's becoming a little bit more open."It's still a little tougher, old-school mentality, but I do think it's coming this way.''
Now, of course, it's heading back with West Virginia's departure from the Big East. The timing couldn't be more ideal. When West Virginia begins competing with Oklahoma and Texas and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and Baylor, etc., it would be nice to have something in common with them. That West Virginia's football philosophy, at least from an offensive standpoint, jibes with those of the schools it will soon join can't be a bad thing, right?The move to the Big 12 would also seem to be tailor-made for the recruiting base to which Holgorsen and his offensive staff are accustomed. Already he has dipped into Texas several times - Dustin Garrison, Paul Millard - and has a quarterback commitment from Houston for the next recruiting class.It should be a whole lot easier to go into those Texas homes and convince momma and papa to send their boys all the way to West By God if they know they're going to get back close to home probably four or five times a year, right?In truth, Holgorsen has tried to shy away from the subject in recent weeks, probably because everything has been so unstable. For instance, when TCU announced plans to join the Big East, he said it would make recruiting easier. When TCU left the Big East without ever playing a game, he said it was no big deal.You kind of get the feeling he's tired of talking about it and would prefer something - anything - be settled."We've got a wide recruiting base that we're going to recruit from,'' Holgorsen said. "We've got a lot of kids from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania. It's all important to us and I don't think it matters who you play. People want to come here because of what we've got here, and I don't think that will change.''
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for West Virginia, though, will be cultural. The Mountaineers have long been the home to the most passionate fan base in their league, the Big East. Part of that is because of, well, the passion of the fans. But part, too, is because there just wasn't much competition. Face it, if you listed the Top 50 fan bases in FBS football, the Big East would be represented by no one other than WVU.That's going to change when West Virginia goes to Texas. It will change when the Mountaineers travel to Oklahoma. Others? Well, maybe not so much, but know that when it comes to fan support, WVU will now be in a different league there, too.Still, Holgorsen maintains there's not much difference."No, I don't think so,'' Holgorsen said. "It's important to a whole lot of people at a whole lot of places.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or
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