By STEPHEN HAWKINS, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is no stranger to the Big 12.
While the Mountaineers are league newcomers, Holgorsen was a Big 12 assistant for nine of 11 seasons before becoming a head coach. He was at Texas Tech for eight seasons and spent a year as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator.
So he has a pretty good idea what West Virginia faces going so far away to a new league after winning or sharing the Big East title six times the last nine years, including the last two.
"What we're getting into is the same thing we got at home. And that didn't necessarily exist in the conference that we were in last year," Holgorsen said Tuesday. "The culture is there. The support's there. The fan base is there. We're going to fill up our stadium. Our team is used to winning, and that exists at the other nine universities in the Big 12 as well."
What does he feel is the best way to explain it to West Virginia fans and people in the Big 12?
"What exists in the Big 12 exists in Morgantown, West Virginia, as well," he said.
In the preseason media poll, the Mountaineers are picked to finish second behind Oklahoma, which won seven Big 12 titles over 11 seasons before Oklahoma State claimed its first crown last season.
There are not the same kinds of expectations for Charlie Weis' first season at Kansas. The Jayhawks are coming off a 2-10 season in which they lost six games by at least 30 points and didn't win a Big 12 game.
"One issue, the one that everyone sees, is the fact that we're 2-10 and 3-9 over the last two years," Weis said. "The other one, which I think is maybe even more important, were not the losses last year but how badly they lost so often. ... The first thing you better do is get your team to be more competitive on a weekly basis."
Weis said that's the No. 1 job of his staff that includes former NFL coach and defensive coordinator Dave Campo. The Jayhawks also have a one-year quarterback in Dayne Crist, a team captain who transferred following his graduation from Notre Dame — where he was originally recruited by Weis.
The Big 12 wrapped up its two-day media session Tuesday with the two new coaches, along with Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Baylor no longer has Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, the second overall pick by the Washington Redskins after bypassing his senior season. Oklahoma State is depending on a true freshman to replace Brandon Weeden and Texas goes into the season with sophomore David Ash and junior Case McCoy still competing to be the starting quarterback.
When Baylor coach Art Briles was asked about replacing Griffin, his immediate retort was, "How do you adjust to not having the best player football in the United States of America last year at the collegiate level?" He later added that the Bears still expect to be a better team a year after matching a school record with 10 wins, including a six-game winning streak to end the season.
"We're in the proving business," Briles said. "So what we have to do is figure out ways to fill in the gaps, because Robert created a bunch of gaps. His ability from somebody else's is a big gap. We have to fill that in with a variety of different methods, schematically, personnel-wise and motivational-wise and inspiration-wise that will give us an opportunity to stay at the level we finished at last year."
The Baylor quarterback will be Nick Florence, the senior who would have redshirted last season if not pressed into action the second half against Texas Tech when Griffin was injured. In that half, Florence completed nine of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another score in a victory.
As for Ash and McCoy at Texas, coach Mack Brown said they came out of spring drills even.
"Last year at this time I sat here and we had four (options). And there was a lot of concern about trying to get four guys prepared for a new offense. ... It was all over the place," Brown said. "What we have done now, we have two older guys that have been through a year with Bryan Harsin's and Major Applewhite's offense. They both won significant games."
Oklahoma State, which also lost standout receiver Justin Blackmon, is going from a 28-year-old quarterback who was a first-round NFL draft pick to 18-year-old freshman Wes Lunt, who enrolled last January.
West Virginia, which has a 9-4 record against current Big 12 members it has played, comes into the league with 4,000-yard passer Geno Smith. He is the Big 12 preseason Offensive Player of the Year. His 337 yards passing per game last season would have ranked third in the league behind only Weeden and Oklahoma senior Landry Jones.
"It sounds like everybody in the room thinks that we're pretty good, or that Geno is pretty good," Holgorsen said. "It's a compliment to Geno. ... He progressed and he's got a chance to be pretty good."
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