The countdown clock over at Mission Control in the Puskar Center tells us we’re now T-minus two weeks and counting before liftoff of the 2012 football season. This will be my 29th launch, and I admit the hype and history surrounding this season makes it unique in many ways.
Therefore, here are five things that will make the upcoming campaign special, to say the least:
1.) The Mountaineers have a legitimate Heisman candidate at quarterback who is known for his passing ability. WVU has been blessed with incredibly talented and successful quarterbacks, dating back to Don Nehlen’s first season in 1980. However, Geno Smith
’s personal brand as a true passer exceeds all others who came before him. You might want to make a case for Oliver Luck, Jeff Hostetler or Marc Bulger and all were great passers and players, but none transcended to the national level of Smith. Geno not only has the statistics to back-up the claim, but the national media exposure puts him in a class all by himself.
2.) Tavon Austin
causes opponents four-way fear. Some guys run the ball and some catch it. Some guys return kicks and others return punts. Tavon Austin
does them all with incredibly freakish ability. He may lead the nation again in all-purpose yardage, but that would be selling him short. Austin can change a game with one touch. He is a Mountaineer version of former Alabama star David Palmer. I remember broadcasting the 1993 Alabama-Tennessee battle when the Tide drove 83 yards in the final 83 seconds to rally for a 17-17 tie (yeah we had ties back then). Palmer was the catalyst of the drive. He ran it, caught it, and lined up under center. He was simply amazing. Austin has that same football DNA.
3.) The Mountaineers are being asked to go where no other Gold and Blue gridders have been asked to go. The scheduling differences presented by the new affiliation with the Big 12 go way beyond playing new schools. In a sport where routine is king, the Mountaineers will find themselves in four very unique locations this fall. We’ve never spent a Saturday in Austin, Lubbock, Stillwater, or, a Black Friday in Ames, Iowa. Of particular concern is how the team handles the back-to-back trips to Texas in early October. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Mountaineers could play Texas at night, arrive back in Morgantown Sunday morning at 5 a.m. and then be back on the plane to Lubbock the next Friday. Handling the mental and physical aspects of the travel will be key.
4.) There are no gimmies in conference play. We can no longer look at our league schedule and pencil in wins before the season begins. Yes, I know you only play one game at a time … blah, blah, blah. But the reality is that WVU was either first or second in the Big East for the last decade. That’s over with. I think the days of playing poorly but still winning have come to an end. You snooze and you lose in WVU’s new world.
5.) Our opponents aren’t the only ones who are new and different - so are their fans. I really think you’ll enjoy the new fans you’ll encounter. Our perception after attending media days in Dallas is that our new Big 12 brethren have genuine respect for WVU as an academic institution and athletic program and I think that Big 12 fans share that respect. This will be a wonderful opportunity to open a new chapter and show people in the Big 12 and the rest of the country who Mountaineer fans - and at an even larger level – who West Virginians really are.