WVU, Big 12 Feel Each Other Out - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU, Big 12 Feel Each Other Out

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MORGANTOWN -

West Virginia's reception at this week's Big 12 Media Day was about as positive as any Mountaineer could hope for.

While senior center Joe Madsen was making everyone laugh with a combination of charisma, jokes and blunt honesty, his quarterback was handling the attention of being picked as the league's preseason top offensive player.

Receiver Tavon Austin was his normal, soft-spoken self, deflecting praise for his own outstanding athleticism and instead giving credit to his coaching staff and teammates. The lone defender, Will Clarke, tried to let everyone know West Virginia would bring more to the table than just a high-powered offense.

Even the mascot made a good impression as the Big 12's only team representative that could actually speak – and he did plenty of it.

But while head coach Dana Holgorsen was coming back to his old stomping grounds where he wreaked havoc as an offensive coordinator, the conference introduction was an altogether new experience for his student-athletes.

Many of the teams in the Big 12 have previously only existed in television highlights and as potential postseason matchups as far as WVU is concerned. With that distance, and from a vantage point in the inferior Big East, some of the logos and coaches these Mountaineers came across on Tuesday may have seemed larger than life.

And yet now they are considered an equal – a worthy adversary with plenty of preseason hype.

"Right off the bat, you think of Texas," Smith said at his first official conference event. "Huge Texas venues, loyal fans, great competition – overall, a great conference. It's something that we've known about for awhile now, and now we get a chance to compete in it."

Smith and his teammates each said they feel that with a new slate of conference opponents, every week in the Big 12 will seem like a bowl game. The idea that they could slip due to underestimating a team or failing to adequately prepare does not exist.

"Every game to me is like a bowl game," Madsen said. "It's kind of nice to get out of the Big East, because it's like being in high school where all right, we're playing that team again this year, we know them. Now everything's new and I can't wait."

What does Madsen expect out of the matchups in the Big 12?

"Awesome TV. It's going to be great games, a lot of classic games, I hope," he says.

What the Big 12 expects out of Madsen and the Mountaineers may be something totally different. Many of the coaches have connections with Holgorsen or other assistants on the staff. Some have played against WVU, whether with a different team or in a bowl matchup.

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops remembers the last time he faced the Mountaineers out in the Arizona desert, and he is looking forward to the chance for a rematch. Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads was defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh when the Panthers dashed WVU's national title dreams in 2007, sending them to take on the Sooners in that Fiesta Bowl instead.

The players, however, have little to no experience with West Virginia.

Some mention the atmosphere they've been told to expect when visiting Morgantown, while others seem to believe the hills of West Virginia are more like the arctic in terms of what climate they should expect when traveling to Milan Puskar Stadium.

Then there are those who admit they know close to nothing at all about their new conference opponent.

"The only thing I really know about West Virginia is watching We Are Marshall. That's about it," Baylor defensive back Ahmad Dixon said when asked. "That's about the only thing I get from the fans is they're a pretty tough crowd."

It may be a good thing for Dixon that he is not basing his assessment of the Mountaineers on that other football movie, The Express.

A team like Baylor, picked to finish seventh in the conference, or Oklahoma State at No. 4 after winning the conference, may have reason to be upset that the new kid on the block is getting more preseason love. Instead, they praise the Mountaineers, laud their performance in a bowl game against the ACC, and look forward to welcoming them to the Big 12.

"They better be ready, because we're going to be ready," Texas Tech defensive back Terrance Bullitt said. "They're conference champions and they're a very good team, but I'm ready to see how they respond to each week having to play a Big 12 team. Every week in the Big East is not playing every week in the Big 12. The competition level is higher. To be honest, we want to welcome them with a loss when they come play us."

Bullitt says he expects the Red Raiders to welcome WVU to Lubbock with a blackout. If nothing else, that shows the respect they have for the Mountaineers and where they think WVU could be at that point in the season.

There is a new relationship in the works here. Both sides are feeling each other out, excited for the increase in competition but also excited to prove something.

When the season is over, the familiarity will exist, the honeymoon will have passed, and the newness that West Virginia is set to experience will be old hat. But everyone is ready for the ride with camp set to begin in a week.

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