Rumor appears poised to become reality.
The West Virginia University Mountaineers have reportedly been approved to join the Big 12 Conference, leaving the Big East, which has been hit hard by defections.
West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen was asked his opinion during a press conference on Tuesday. His mind was on other things.
“I don’t have any dealings with that. If I had an opinion, I don’t even know who I’d call,” said Holgorsen, who came to West Virginia from Oklahoma State of the Big 12. “If I called Oliver Luck and Dr. (James) Clements, they’d probably laugh at me and say, ‘You need to worry about Rutgers’.
“That’s true — 100 percent true. I spent 16 hours (Monday) scheduling and game-planning for Rutgers and came in and finished up for about four hours this morning. I’ve been doing media for about two hours. I’d like to know where I’d find the time to do it if I wanted to.”
West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) will look to rebound from a surprising 49-23 loss at Syracuse by traveling to Rutgers (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday in a game that will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.
There is little time to think about a change of leagues, especially since the Scarlet Knights beat the Orange on the road 19-16 earlier this season in overtime.
“Rutgers is the same type of team as Syracuse. They’re well-coached and they play hard. The thing most impressive about their defense is how hard they play and how aggressive they are to attack the ball to get the ball out,” said Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers defeated the Knights 35-14 last year.
“They lead the nation in turnovers — they’ve got 25 of them. We’ve got eight, if I’m not mistaken. They do a good job of that. Offensively, they control the clock; they control the ball. Their special teams are extremely solid.”
Rutgers is ninth in the country in scoring defense (16.00 ppg), while the Knights are fifth in turnover margin. Rutgers only two losses have come by two points each to North Carolina (24-22) and last week to Louisville (16-14).
“It’s going to be a challenge to go up there. It’s going to be much like Syracuse,” said Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers plummeted from 11th in the AP poll to 25th. They’re also currently 25th in the BCS standings. “They’re going to be fired up about playing at home, and they’re going to be fired up about playing the Mountaineers.
“We’re going to get their best shot. If we want to win a championship this year, then we’ve got to be able to handle that. We didn’t handle it last week, and we need to be able to handle it this week.”
The Mountaineers are 34-4-2 against Rutgers, winning the last 16 in a row, including the memorable 80-7 laugher in 2001. The Scarlet Knights last won in the series with a 17-12 decision in ‘94.
Parity definitely reigns in the Big East this season. Cincinnati is the lone team without a loss at 2-0, while South Florida is a disappointing 0-3. Everyone else has at least one loss.
Both teams need this win to stay close to the top. Motivation should not be an issue.
“You’re looking at two teams coming off losses, so it really doesn’t matter this week,” Holgorsen said. “They won’t do anything differently, and we’re not going to do anything differently, either, other than get back to work today and coach them hard and keep them accountable for what we’re asking them to do in practice and with the game plan...
“We need seniors and upperclassmen to step up and take control of this team when things get tough. The routine of the week is going to be the same. The difference is, when we line up and get hit in the mouth, what are we going to do?
“Last week, we didn’t do anything. This week, we need guys to step up and be the ones that are going to hit people back in the mouth. That’s called football.”
Holgorsen answered a few more questions about the possible move to the Big 12, including the biggest differences between it and the Big East.
“It’s different. If you look at all of the Big 12, you’ve got Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and they’re all spread (offenses),” Holgorsen said. “Kansas State and Coach (Bill) Snyder’s still doing things the way he did 40 years ago, and he has obviously been incredibly successful.
“I’m only two games into the Big East. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s a little different. I do think that the movement (to the spread) is coming east.
“If you look at what we’re bringing at West Virginia and Pitt and Louisville and Cincinnati, there’s a shift to where it’s becoming more and more open, so to speak.
“There’s still a tougher, old-school mentality, but I do think it’s coming this way.”
Moving to a new league centered in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, among others, will bring an opportunity for a even more fertile recruiting region for the Mountaineers, but Holgorsen doesn’t think that will make a lot of difference in the move.
“We’ve got a wide recruiting base that we’re going to recruit a lot of kids from,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve got a lot of guys from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania.
“I don’t think it matters who you play. People want to come here because of what we have here. I don’t think that it will change.”
Neither will the passion that the avid West Virginia fans have for their football. The folks in the Big 12 have those same feelings for their teams.
“There’s not a huge difference surrounding football between here and there,” Holgorsen said. “It’s important to a whole lot of people in a lot of places.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
Rumor appears poised to become reality.
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