Plenty of Buzz, But No Fear

Since West Virginia walked off the field at Sun Life Stadium after winning a convincing 70-33 decision in last season's Orange Bowl, the buzz has been building. And with Big 12 Conference media days just completed, it has reached new levels.

The Mountaineers will begin what may be their most anticipated football season in a matter of weeks. The combination of a strong roster, the move to the Big 12 and easily the most difficult regular season schedule in the last decade of WVU football has fans eagerly anticipating the Sept. 1 season-opener against Marshall.

So what do the players think?

"Everybody around here doesn't really talk about it like that," linebacker/defensive end Tyler Anderson said. "They just talk about what we've got to do to win the Big 12. They don't talk about other teams. But when you're outside the stadium, you hear, ‘Oh, going to the Big 12, going to be playing Texas.' We don't look at it like that though.

"We don't really pay attention to all that. We're worried about what we've got to do. We've worked hard this offseason."

Indeed, against the backdrop of all the noise coming from fans (and, yes, reporters too), West Virginia players have largely stuck to a routine schedule.

Spring practice was little different than the season before, and changes were more the result of it being Dana Holgorsen's first spring as head coach than the Big 12 move.

Summer strength and conditioning, to hear the players tell the story, has been more intense than ever -- but that's typical for every summer, not just this one.

Holgorsen hasn't had a team meeting to discuss the ramifications of moving from the Big East to the Big 12, hasn't put fear in his players' hearts by discussing the difficulties of facing their new conference schedule.

So you'll have to excuse the Mountaineer players for now if they are tiring just a bit of all the Big 12 hype, of hearing how difficult it will be to reside in a conference alongside heavyweights like Texas and Oklahoma.

"It will be a big transition, but it's like they're saying we're playing NFL teams. It's ridiculous," linebacker Jared Barber said. "It will be bigger, but I don't think it will be what everybody is making out to be."

For some on the WVU roster, all the hype has led to a bit of curiosity about what the Big 12 has in store. Is it really as tough as many are saying? That much tougher than the Big East?

Finally, with the season on the brink of beginning, that curiosity will soon be satisfied.

"I hear it all the time, from my friends, the media ... they say it's a much different world than the Big East, the stadiums and all that," linebacker Doug Rigg said. "I'm ready to see it, see what we're up against. We're not going to disrespect any opponent, but we're not going to fear any opponent at the same time. We're finally ready to play again instead of hearing about other teams."

Of course, as the Mountaineers showed in January's Orange Bowl -- and, going back a few years, in BCS bowl wins over Georgia and Oklahoma -- they can compete with top teams from any conference. But questions still remain.

That's actually not unreasonable, according to Rigg.

"I think the biggest thing they're saying against us is ‘Can we do it week in and week out?' LSU, we played them, then fast forward 10 more weeks and then we played Clemson. So it's not like we played those types of teams back-to-back-to-back weeks," Rigg noted. "That's what we'll have to do in the Big 12. That's why we're hitting the weight room as hard as we are, because we know we'll need everybody and we need to play hard from the beginning, every single week, preparing. That's what people are counting against us.

"After playing LSU, my body was shot. Other than the fact that I broke my wrist, my body was just shot and exhausted from that game. I just couldn't imagine if we were in the SEC and playing Georgia the next week, or Alabama. Those guys, they've got to not only forget about the win they just had, but they've got to go and play another tough team. We'll have the same thing in the Big 12. It's just about preparing your body and your mind the right way."

Lest anyone think the Mountaineers aren't confident in their ability to handle that week-in, week-out pressure, it's clear Stedman Bailey hasn't adjusted his goals for the team at all to account for the tougher schedule that lies ahead.

He expects excellence in year two under Holgorsen, Big 12 or not.

"I don't expect nothing less than 50 points a game, really, for us this year," Bailey said. "With all the hard work we've been putting in and this being our second year in the offense, it can only get better."


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