Welcome to the Big 12 Conference

  • By John Antonik
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  • July 24, 2012 01:51 PM
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DALLAS - Dana Holgorsen has spent nine of his 12 years of coaching in the Big 12 Conference so he knows what the league is all about. Now, he says West Virginia football fans are going to find out what it is all about.

“There’s excitement all over the nation [for Mountaineer football] and it seems like this week starts it all,” Holgorsen said. “It’s good to be a part of the Big 12 from a coaching standpoint, player standpoint, administrative standpoint, and a fan-base standpoint. I can assure you everybody in West Virginia is excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us.”

Despite the geographical differences, Holgorsen believes West Virginia football fits the Big 12 in many ways, particularly the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday afternoons.

“I’ve been going around the state for the last couple of months telling the people of West Virginia what we’re getting in to is the same thing we’ve got at home,” Holgorsen explained. “And that didn’t necessarily exist in the conference that we were in last year.

“It means a lot; the culture is there. The support’s there. The fan base is there. We’re going to fill up that stadium. Our team is used to winning, and that also exists at the other nine universities in the Big 12 as well,” Holgorsen added.

As for the geographical distance, Holgorsen said that simply means riding in an airplane for an hour or an hour and a half longer than in the past to get to games.

“The road games are going to be an airplane ride,” he explained. “So you’re going to jump on a plane and fly a couple of hours no matter where you go. From there it’s all about routine.”

A big routine of late for West Virginia has been fielding winning football teams. In 2011, West Virginia won at least 10 games for the fourth time since 2005, and the Mountaineers have averaged 10 victories per year over the last seven following last January’s 70-33 win over Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. On the basis of that performance, the Mountaineers last week were picked to finish second in the Big 12 this year behind Oklahoma, WVU actually garnering seven first place votes.

Also, quarterback Geno Smith was named the Big 12’s preseason offensive player of the year over standout Landry Jones and three other quarterbacks in the league on the Davey O’Brien Watch List. Holgorsen said his team will simply have to handle the big expectations this fall.

“You don’t get ahead of yourself, I guess,” said Holgorsen. “It seems like I haven’t seen these guys in two, three months, but that’s what camp is all about. If you think a guy has been reading his press clippings then it’s your job as a coach to make sure you bring them down.

“What is awesome about the Big 12, as opposed to where we were last year, is just the national exposure, and it’s going to be West Coast to East Coast,” he said. “They’re going to be put in some venues to be able to shine if they can handle that.”

And Holgorsen said that is job No. 1 of his coaching staff to make sure their players can handle that.

“[We have] to put them in those positions and make sure that they are prepared and get them on that stage and see what they can do from there,” Holgorsen explained. “So managing expectations is part of our job. It’s obviously better to have high expectations rather than low expectations.”

Holgorsen’s offenses have historically improved from year one to year two in his system. With nine starters back on offense, Holgorsen expects to see improvement this season as well.

“Everything is better the second year,” he admitted. “It was evident last year with Brandon [Weedon] at Oklahoma State, and his year two was more comfortable. You can just see Geno with a little bit more confidence right now. It makes more sense to him. After having a year under your belt, it’s easier to get a bunch of guys out there [working] on your own.”

Holgorsen just wants his guys to understand that playing winning football takes everyone performing well in all three phases - not just one or two key players on both sides of the ball performing well.

“I don’t want to put a whole bunch of pressure on Geno,” Holgorsen said. “We’re not going to win games with Geno alone. He’s got to have a whole bunch of guys around him that makes plays and understand the offense, and that’s how you get good offensively.”

Other topics Holgorsen touched on during his 20-minute session with the print media Tuesday morning …

- On the difference of being an offensive coordinator to now being responsible for the entire team …

“The best way I can describe it is I just paid attention to who I worked for,” he said. “I was with Mike Leach for eight years and saw how he ran his program and then moved on and worked for Kevin Sumlin down at the University of Houston. And Kevin’s approach was a lot different; more of a CEO-type of approach and managed not only what we were doing offensively but special teams, defense, recruiting, media, alumni base, and he did a great job of handling the whole scope of things.

“Then working one year with Coach [Mike] Gundy there at Oklahoma State – I just paid attention to how all three of them did it and took bits and pieces from each one and developed my own way of doing things,” he said.

- On the exceptional quarterback talent the Big 12 has to offer this year …

“Sounds like it’s been the same way in the Big 12 for about a decade now,” Holgorsen said. “There have been a whole bunch of good quarterbacks come through the league. The league has been that way for as long as I can remember it. I’ve been fortunate of being at a lot of those games and coach a lot of those quarterbacks that existed.”

- On adding some new wrinkles for Big 12 this season …

“Yeah, we’ll probably put something new out there, but I’m not going to tell you what it is,” he said. “It’s evolved. I mean, obviously eight years in Lubbock working for Coach Leach, the offense was kind of set. I made the decision four years ago to break away from them to go down to the University of Houston. And every time you change a job you have got to look at what your personnel is and you’ve got to try and tweak some things to fit what your personnel is.

“We tweaked it a little bit at Houston. We tweaked it a little bit at Oklahoma State and last year when we went to West Virginia, we tweaked it a little bit. The specifics would take a couple of days to get into,” he said.

- On the boost the Big 12 will give West Virginia in Texas recruiting …

“Texas is obviously a huge college football hotbed,” said Holgorsen. “Yes, we will recruit Houston and we will recruit Dallas. I think we’ve got to be careful a little bit about how much manpower we put there because it’s so competitive.

“I don’t want to take away from what’s made West Virginia. Our surrounding states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia all have pretty good football so we’ll continue to get a majority of our kids from that area. That’s a very recruited area and there are a lot of Division I athletes that come out of that area. And Florida has been fantastic for us. I think we signed 13 kids out of Florida last year.”

As for Texas, Holgorsen said his coaches will concentrate mostly on kids who have outstanding senior seasons and have not committed elsewhere.

“If you look back at my first year, we signed Dustin Garrison, an undersized kid that didn’t have a lot of Division I offers, but was the Houston Touchdown Club Player of the Year,” Holgorsen said. “He was state champion, 16-0, and rushed for over 3,000 yards and he ended up starting for us as a freshman. Paul Millard from here in Dallas didn’t have any offers, he was an undersized quarterback, but he threw for about 4,500 yards, 45 touchdowns, and had a pretty good senior year. That’s our approach with Texas … is to just make sure that we’re getting good quality players that really have great senior years.”

- On what has happened at Penn State and his policy on taking transfers …

“We don’t take a whole lot of transfers,” Holgorsen said. “I think the biggest thing is if you take transfers it’s for immediate help. That’s what transfers are all about. I think it can be beneficial if you identify what your needs are.

“Other than that, I think what you want to do is you want to fill your team full of a whole bunch of high school kids and watch them mature over the course of five years - which is really what West Virginia has done for the last decade – get a bunch of good high school kids, coach them, put them through your strength program and watch them mature.”