MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - There is excitement here as West Virginia nears its first season as a member of the Big 12 Conference. Since the much delayed announcement became official last February, the Mountaineers have been awaiting the arrival of football season.
"It's good to be a part of the Big 12 from a coaching standpoint, player standpoint, administrative standpoint, and a fan-base standpoint," said senior-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who spent nine of his 12 seasons as an assistant coach with Big 12 schools. "I can assure you everybody in West Virginia is excited about the opportunity that's in front of us. It's going to be a challenge."
Senior Geno Smith was named the Big 12's preseason offensive player of the year. Last season, his first in Holgorsen's system, Smith threw for 4,385 yards with 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"He progressed and he's got a chance to be pretty good," Holgorsen said. "He stacks up with a lot of the other guys I've had in the past. Ultimately, it's how many games you win. He's going to be remembered for how many games you win."
Smith added 20 pounds during the offseason and is now 6-2, 225 pounds. Despite the eye-catching numbers in 2011, he is not kind with his self assessment.
"I made poor decisions in a lot of situations,'' Smith said. "That's really where I've improved the most, my decision making and being able to get us in and out of good plays, taking care of the ball a little bit more and just overall being a better quarterback.''
The defense will switch from the 3-3-5 alignment to a 3-4-4 scheme. The biggest difference, obviously, is one more linebacker and one less defensive back. But in the previous playbook one of the defensive backs was as much a linebacker as a member of the secondary. Playing that hybrid position this season is senior Terence Garvin, move moves from safety to the "star" linebacker spot.
"There are more snaps [per game in the Big 12], so you're going to play more people," Holgorsen said of his defense. "West Virginia hasn't really played freshmen, but we're going to need to. ... We're going to need more bodies. ... We've made adjustments to make [the defense] make sense to the kids quicker."
Last season, West Virginia earned a share of the Big 12 Conference title and then won the Orange Bowl in record-setting fashion, blitzing Clemson, 70-33. The Mountaineers set or tied 18 school bowl records. The impressive victory also provided a perfect spring board for the move to the Big 12.
"Our guys felt like they weren't getting much credit, and they wanted to make a statement," Dana Holgorsen said after the game. "The victory caps a great season and helps us lay the groundwork for the future."
That future is now.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Coach: Dana Holgorsen, second season.
2011: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in Big East Conference.
Bowl: Defeated Clemson, 70-33, in Orange Bowl.
Returning starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense.
Key players: Senior QB Geno Smith, senior WR Tavon Austin, junior WR Stedman Bailey, senior RB Shawne Alston, senior OL Joe Madsen, senior LB Terence Garvin, junior S Darwin Cook, senior LB Jared Barber, junior DL Will Clarke, senior PK Tyler Bitancourt.
Information, please: West Virginia was one of two schools in the nation with a 4,000 yard passer and two receivers with over 1,000 yards in receptions. ... Receivers Stedman Bailey (1,279 yards) and Tavon Austin (1,186 yards) both broke the school single-season record for receiving yards. ... A former running back, Austin gained 941 of his yards after catch. ... The 6,104 yards in total offense set a school record. ... Senior running back Shawne Alston graduated this summer with a degree in criminology and plans to start graduate school next spring. ... Only one of West Virginia's Big East victories last season was by more than 10 points; the remaining four wins came by a combined 17 points.
Numbers to note: Senior quarterback Geno Smith recorded five of the top passing yardage totals in school history last season during an 11-game span. West Virginia has played over 1,200 games in its football history.Schedule
|Sept. 15||James Madison (at Landover, Md.)|
|Oct. 6||at Texas*|
|Oct. 13||at Texas Tech*|
|Oct. 20||Kansas State*|
|Nov. 10||at Oklahoma State*|
|Nov. 24||at Iowa State*|