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Berry Tramel

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Big 12 football: Watch out for West Virginia

by Berry Tramel Published: January 5, 2012
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith (12) throws the ball during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Clemson, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Miami. West Virginia defeated Clemson 70-33.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith (12) throws the ball during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Clemson, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Miami. West Virginia defeated Clemson 70-33.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Big 12 wants West Virginia immediately and West Virginia wants the Big 12 immediately. The Big East wants West Virginia to stay another two years.

Big 12 defensive coordinators would support a compromise. How about West Virginia comes over as soon as Geno Smith’s eligibility is gone? Another hot-handed quarterback appears headed for the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen’s offense was in high gear Wednesday night as West Virginia routed Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.

The Orange Bowl was impressive for a team that sputtered through much of the 2011 season. West Virginia finished 10-3, tied with Louisville and Cincinnati — the two schools I want added to the Big 12 with WVU — atop the Big East.

West Virginia scored 21 points on Pitt, 24 on Cincinnati, 35 on Louisville and 23 on Syracuse.  That’s certainly the kind of offense the Big 12 hopes West Virginia brings to the league. But don’t count on it. Against Clemson, quarterback Geno Smith was superb. Sure, a bunch of his 401 yards passing and six TD passes came on those virtual handoffs, a forward flip to a sweeping receiver. But even when throwing downfield, Smith was impressive. Accurate, strong, good runner. Good-bye Robert Griffin, hello Geno Smith.

West Virginia appeared to have the same kind of weapons we saw out of the 2007 Mountaineers, who routed OU in the Fiesta Bowl. Tavon Austin is a lightning-bug slotback, ala Noel Devine. A bunch of Mountaineer receivers made solid catches.

Holgorsen appears to have taken his Texas Tech/Houston/OSU magic to Appalachia. ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew was duly impressed. “I am shocked by the quality of offense they can run in eight seconds (between plays),” said Jon Gruden. “Amazing they can get 11 college football players lined up that fast and come off the ball with that authority.”

Give Holgorsen credit. He appears to be the offensive whiz he showed in Stillwater. So get ready, Big 12. We knew West Virginia was an upgrade from Missouri in overall football program. Now we have  a clear sense of the headaches the Mountaineers will cause.

“I think the future’s pretty bright at West Virginia,” Holgorsen said.

West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Hunter Bittner (54) and offensive linesman Pat Eger (76) hug head coach Dana Holgorsen, left, after defeating Clemson 70-33 at the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, in Miami . (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Hunter Bittner (54) and offensive linesman Pat Eger (76) hug head coach Dana Holgorsen, left, after defeating Clemson 70-33 at the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, in Miami . (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

West Virginia led 56-20 with 12:35 left in the third quarter, which ironically was the same margin by which Southern Cal beat Oklahoma seven years ago in the national title Orange Bowl. This was that kind of mismatch.

It was sweet vengeance for West Virginia. Geographically and competitively, the Mountaineers clearly belong in the ACC. Made sense when the ACC expanded several years ago, taking instead Boston College to round out the 12-team conference. Makes sense now, when the ACC invited Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East.

West Virginia’s lack of academic reputation apparently turns off the ACC. Fine. I suppose there’s something to be said for that. Just don’t pretend you’re a big-time football conference while acting snooty. The ACC is now 2-15 in BCS bowl games. The ACC’s only victories were Virginia Tech over Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl after the 2008 season, and Florida State’s Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech (before VPI joined the ACC) for the 1999 national title.

West Virginia is just what the ACC needs. But the ACC’s loss is the Big 12′s gain. It’s a total geographic stretch, but what a nice addition football-wise for the Big 12.

West Virginia returns 14 or 15 starters, depending on how you measure it. But with Smith back, it’s not difficult to project the Mountaineers as a contender for the Big 12 title, should West Virginia get to the Big 12 in 2012. Which most people think will happen. West Virginia might just come, without the Big East’s blessing, and let the courts settle it.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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