By Cam Huffman
Big things are here.
All summer long — on ticket order forms, schedule posters, T-shirts, billboards and anywhere else they could fit it — the West Virginia University athletic department used the slogan “Big Things are Coming” to promote the 2012 football season, the Mountaineers’ first as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, though, was slow to react to the news. While Mountaineer fans were buying up all the gear they could find and holding parties to celebrate the move to one of college football’s power conferences, WVU’s coach was trying to keep his team focused.
When the announcement that the Mountaineers would be landing in the Big 12 became official last fall, WVU was in New Jersey preparing to play Rutgers.
Holgorsen, knowing the news could be a distraction, brought his team together and told them that they’d talk about the Big 12 at some point, but that the right time had not arrived.
WVU won that game on a snow-covered field at Rutgers and went on to capture the Big East championship and win the Orange Bowl over ACC champion Clemson.
But Holgorsen still didn’t want to talk about the new league.
All summer, he’d speak only of Marshall, the first team on the schedule, and then it was James Madison and then Maryland. But with Baylor next on the slate, Holgorsen can no longer ignore the issue.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said the second-year coach. “I think 11 months ago, we made the announcement that we’re going to go to the Big 12 and a lot of people wanted to get excited about it. But we tried to just focus on our football team and what we needed to do to get better. Now the Big 12 is upon us.
“I think it’s going to be a very festive weekend. I think it’s going to be very festive from a West Virginia football standpoint, but also from a national standpoint.”
Holgorsen expects the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium to be electric Saturday when the game, which will be televised nationally on FX, kicks off at noon.
“We’re looking forward to a fun Saturday,” he said. “I thought the energy and excitement level of last week (against Maryland) was very average, not only from a players standpoint, but from a coaches standpoint and an atmosphere standpoint. I expect that to be totally different this week, and that’s something that we’re looking forward to having. I think our players will respond.”
At the same time, Holgorsen is also trying to keep his unit from getting over-hyped for Saturday’s contest.
“We’re excited about it, and we’re excited about the future of West Virginia football,” he explained. “But from a coaches and a players standpoint, we need to make it a regular week, ignore a bunch of outside distractions and get our kids ready to play Baylor. We’re not playing the Big 12. We’re playing Baylor.
“Our goal in the beginning of the season, and I think it’s the same goal of everybody that competes in college football, is to win the conference. If you win your conference, especially the Big 12 Conference, then you go to a BCS bowl or have an opportunity to play for a national championship. So this is step No. 1 in achieving that goal. Every game is going to be important, and this is going to be the first one.”
That first step will be a challenging one against a Baylor team ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll this week and featuring an offense that’s averaged 51.3 points and 568.7 yards of offense through its 3-0 start.
The Bears, like the Mountaineers, try to play as fast as possible. Head coach Art Briles actually spent three seasons with Holgorsen as an assistant at Texas Tech, and the two take a similar approach to attacking defenses with high-powered offenses.
That philosophy will be different from what WVU saw in its first three games, and, according to Holgorsen, the biggest difference between the Big East and the Big 12.
“There’s a cultural difference, and we’re still adapting to it,” said Holgorsen, who has spent the majority of his coaching career in the Big 12, first at Texas Tech and then later at Oklahoma State. “Probably the biggest difference is the amount of kids that play in those games, compared to Big East games. You could go into a Big East game and just plan on playing about 40 kids. That happened last year.
“That’s hard to do when you’re taking (a lot of) snaps. Baylor’s averaging 90 snaps a game, and they’re defending 87 or 88 snaps a game. When both teams are taking more snaps, you’ve got to play more people. And that’s the biggest difference between the Big 12 and the Big East.”
Further driving home the point that Saturday’s contest will be anything but a normal home game, country music singer Trace Adkins has been tabbed to perform the national anthem prior to kickoff.
Known for total album sales surpassing 10 million — as well as being a finalist on The Celebrity Apprentice and playing a role in the movie “The Lincoln Lawyer” — Adkins is a former oil rigger and the father of five daughters.
The American Football Coaches Association, WVU and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be joining together to distribute child identification kits to fans at Saturday’s game. Beginning late in the third quarter and continuing through the end of the game, kits that include an inkless fingerprint card and instructions for obtaining and keeping a DNA swab will be distributed to fans to help identify children that go missing.
Every year throughout the country, more than 800,000 kids go missing as the result of runaways or abductions.
“Being a parent myself, I know how important that is,” said Holgorsen. “It’s a fantastic way to give peace of mind, if nothing else, to parents out there.”
Grant Teaff, the executive director of the AFCA and a former Baylor head coach, will be at the game to help with the initiative.
The coaching staffs at WVU and Baylor will also be joining with other members of the AFCA wearing patches to help raise awareness for Coach to Cure MD, an initiative that raises money to help fund research to find a cure for muscular dystrophy.
Saturday’s game has been designated as “Stripe the Stadium Day.” Fans sitting in even-numbered sections are encouraged to wear gold, while fans sitting in odd numbered sections are asked to wear blue.
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