DALLAS - Having just spent a couple of days at the Big 12's elaborate football media days, Dana Holgorsen and at least a handful of his best players have dipped their toes into the league waters and gotten a feel for what it's all about.Holgorsen, of course, already knows the Big 12, having spent nine of the 11 years prior to last in the league. His West Virginia players - Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Joe Madsen and Will Clarke were on hand - were seeing things for the first time.They weren't hearing about it for the first time, though. In fact, in the nine months since the school was accepted into the league that's all anyone has talked about, ad nauseam. I've done my best to avoid asking - at least until this week - questions with 'Big 12' in them or writing much at all about what players or coaches think of all things Big 12.I mean really, how many different answers are you going to get aside from the standard, which is that it's a step up and a challenge and different from the Big East and the travel isn't a big deal and blah blah blah blah blah? Can we please talk about football?
Here's the thing about all the attention on the Big 12, too. A week from today, when West Virginia begins preseason practice, it's going to become an issue, a distraction. The first Big 12 game, against Baylor, will still be more than eight weeks away. The first game overall, the one with Marshall, will trump that by a full four weeks.That's one reason why Holgorsen insists that in these past nine months he's not sure he's even brought up the subject of the league to his team. A distraction? What distraction?"We haven't allowed it to be,'' Holgorsen said. "I don't think I've said 'Big 12' to our team."They get enough of it from media and reading papers and the Internet and TV and all that stuff. I don't need to say it. We haven't talked about it. They know what their responsibility is right now.''In the short term, that responsibility is to do nothing. The players have most of the next several days off until reporting next Wednesday and beginning practice Thursday. That gives them a month to prepare for the season, which includes Marshall, James Madison and Maryland over a four-week span before Big 12 play starts.While that might be what everyone has been waiting for the last nine months, it's not going to generate nearly the excitement if West Virginia goes into it anything less than 3-0.
Which is why it's likely still to be a while before Holgorsen brings up the Big 12 to his team."Their responsibility, whether it's coaches or players, is to improve individually, improve as units and build your team,'' Holgorsen said. "And they know good and well what that first game is. That first game is Marshall and that's all we're going to talk about.''nn
Everyone here at the Big 12 event wanted to talk about Geno Smith, and why not? The Mountaineer quarterback hasn't played a down of Big 12 football, yet was still the choice of the media covering the league as the preseason player of the year.Smith deflects questions about it by pointing out how Oklahoma's Landry Jones is a proven Big 12 star, as are guys like Kansas State's Collin Klein, Texas Tech's Seth Doege and Kansas State's Casey Pachall. He even brings up Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt, a true freshman.
But here's what probably will matter most when it's time for preseason honors to turn into postseason awards: wins."He stacks up with a lot of the other guys I've had in the past,'' Holgorsen said of Smith and referring to former pupils Graham Harrell (Texas Tech), Case Keenum (Houston) and Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State). "But ultimately he's going to be remembered for how many games he wins."If you look back at some of the guys in the past, Graham Harrell back four years ago at Texas Tech was a good player but they won 11 games his senior year. Case Keenum, they won 12 or 13 games last year. Brandon Weeden last year at Oklahoma State, I think they won 15 games last year or whatever it was."So ultimately he's going to be remembered for how many games he can win, and Geno's got the ability to make everybody else around him better.''nn
And finally, a couple of leftover notes from Holgorsen:
He said last year's 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl "was the only time at halftime we sat in there and said, 'Well, I guess we don't have any adjustments to make.' ''
I felt obliged to ask: What did he do at halftime?"I went out and listened to the concert,'' he deadpanned. Someone immediately mentioned that it was the group Train."Yeah, I'm a big fan of Train.''Right.Holgorsen was also inevitably asked about Mike Leach, his former mentor at Texas Tech who is back in coaching at Washington State after doing a couple of years in TV.
"It's good to see him back. He's good for the game,'' Holgorsen said. "Plus, he's not a very good announcer.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.