We got a hint of the expectations for this year’s West Virginia University football team earlier today when the Big 12 Conference announced of its preseason all-conference teams.
Nary a Mountaineer was on it and that is clearly a change from last year when West Virginia seemed to be the flavor of the week as one of the new members of the league.
“Going into it last year we were picked high, the expectations were high and it was kind of a setup job based on winning the Orange Bowl and the way that we did it,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen earlier this week on Yahoo! Sports Radio 1560 AM in Houston
. “We had some star power coming back and the newness of the Big 12 everybody was excited about us coming in. And it was fun.
“It was competitive and we had some good games,” he added. “We didn’t win as many of them as we wanted to, but still it was pretty competitive and a lot of fun.”
In order for West Virginia to remain competitive, Holgorsen said it is imperative that his staff continues to focus on talent acquisition. And for the most part, it appears West Virginia accomplished that last winter.
“We’ve got to improve our people, there is no doubt about that,” Holgorsen said. “Everybody thinks we had a tremendous amount of talent and just over-the-top guys because we had Tavon, Stedman and Geno, but the truth of the matter is every position has to get upgraded. The Big 12 is good. It’s deep. “
Holgorsen said the biggest difference between the Big East and the Big 12 is the amount of depth needed to get through a season. It’s almost a night and day difference.
“Probably the biggest difference is you really didn’t need your second-team guy very much in the Big East,” he pointed out. “You need that second-team guy to be as good or as close to being just as good as the first-team guy because you are going to get to the second-team guy a lot, because of depth issues, because of the amount of plays offenses are playing (in the Big 12), and the importance of special teams.”
The third-year coach said his staff recently did a study of the amount of players it used at various times throughout his first two seasons and the results were surprising - at least to those of us outside the Milan Puskar Center.
“My first year at West Virginia we used on average about 44 players a game,” he said. “Then last year, we used about 61 players a game. You need depth and those guys have got to make a difference.”
Depth issues and inexperience were clearly obvious for a WVU defense that really struggled to get off the field last season in Big 12 play.
“Defensively, we played eight guys for the first time ever that started and probably another eight guys that were freshmen or redshirt freshmen that had never played as well,” he said. “That was the biggest glaring thing that everybody saw last year, and we truly expect that to be a lot better this year.”
The Big 12 is without question an offensive-oriented league and that was a big change for a Mountaineer defense used to facing ball-control styles on a weekly basis in the former Big East.
“The style of play is different than what they expected,” Holgorsen explained. “In the old Big East our guys were defending about 51 plays a game when West Virginia was a top-10 defensive team. Now we’re defending 71 plays a game and it’s not going to change. Obviously we’re going to push the envelop on that as much as anybody, but defensively we’ve got to understand that and we can’t get discouraged when they score a couple of touchdowns.”Briefly …
Holgorsen touched on some other interesting topics during his 11-minute visit on the Houston morning radio show:
- On the value of having three marquee offensive players go high in the NFL draft last spring … “The draft helped but it’s going to really help next year. The Orange Bowl game and our recent success earlier in the season with wins against Baylor, Maryland and Texas, and putting up big numbers, that helped us get some guys.”
- On the three-way battle for the starting quarterback job this fall … “Our quarterback race is wide open. Ford (Childress) has four years left. Paul Millard
, for the balance, has got three years left and our transfer, Clint Trickett
from Florida State, has got two years left and is immediately eligible. Those three guys have just got to compete.”
- On the addition of Houston running back Charles Sims
for his final season of collegiate eligibility at WVU … “We’re excited to have Charles on board. I was involved with the recruiting process for Charles and Charles’ true freshman year was my last year as coordinator. I was able to coach him that one year and that was his best year statistically from a running, receiving and a combination of both in total yards.”
- On continuing to bring in good football players to get his roster on par with the upper echelon of the Big 12 in terms of talent … “We’ve got to continue to try and raise the bar. We need to upgrade our talent level. We need to continue to get better players in there to be able to win the Big 12."
- On the current trend of players transferring to other BCS programs and his philosophy on granting releases … “I think every case is different. I think you have to look at every case as far as what the issues are and what the problems are. Guys want to leave our program, too. It just happens, especially when you are getting kids from all over. You’re dealing with 18-22-year-old kids. Competition is an issue. Homesickness is an issue. When guys want to come in and they want to transfer, the stipulations that I look at are we don’t ever want to play against that guy. And we prefer not to have to recruit against him.
“If he goes to another place and he has a tremendous amount of success and it hurts us in recruiting, then you better think twice about it because it’s what’s best for your program,” he added. “You never let a guy go that you could play against, whether it’s the next year or the next year after that.”
- And finally, on the philosophy of scheduling tough early-season games beginning with next year’s season opener against perennial national title contender Alabama … “That’s kind of been one of Coach Saban’s deals, which I agree with wholeheartedly, which is play a big non-conference game early. I think that’s kind of becoming one of the norms in scheduling.
“I think you are going to see a few things: one, neutral site games for big paydays – big venue and neutral site. It’s a big payday and a lot of exposure. You go out and win that one and it’s a heck of a deal. Then I think everyone is going to end up playing nine conference games at some point, and then the third thing is we’ll probably get away from FCS scheduling. There has been a big push from the Big Ten and I think the Pac 12; there is going to be some resistance from a couple of power conferences, but eventually I think you will see all three of those being the norm.”
Holgorsen will be in Dallas next week for the annual Big 12 media day activities taking place July 22-23 at the Omni Hotel. Preseason camp begins in early August.