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Spanning the Big 12: Five questions with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer Jenn Menendez

Gina Mizell Modified: April 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: August 22, 2012

Continuing our series checking in with the beat writers who cover Oklahoma State’s conference opponents as we march closer to the start of football season.

Texas with HornsNation’s Carter Strickland
Kansas with the Lawrence Journal-World’s Matt Tait
Texas Tech with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Nick Kosmider
TCU with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson

West Virginia with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jenn Menendez (@JennMenendez)

Here’s our exchange:

Gina Mizell: What’s the vibe around Morgantown about WVU’s move to the Big 12, now that we’re really getting close to the season kicking off? Are the expectations to win the conference in Year 1?

Jenn Menendez: The fans are beyond excited for the season to start and absolutely think this team can win the league. They are still riding the Orange Bowl win over Clemson and bought tickets in droves. The team is playing it cool, and saying all the right things, but you can certainly tell there’s a level of anticipation that hasn’t been felt around here in a long time. The coaches are more tempered in their optimism but, also, you can tell there is change in the air.

GM: Geno Smith is the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year and an early Heisman candidate. For those of us who have never seen him play in person before, what makes him such a special quarterback? What are his chances of winning the Heisman?

JM: He’s very composed. That is his greatest strength, in my opinion, without question. He takes the time he needs, makes good decisions, and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes. You can’t forget that he has an very talented pair of receives to throw to – Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey – both of them can make something out of nothing. But as for his chances of winning the Heisman – I’d say if he betters his season from last year even a little bit he’ll become more of contender simply because West Virginia will be on a much bigger stage this year. He’ll throw for a ton of yards, that’s for sure, and since he’s already in the collective conscience of voters from the Orange Bowl performance, his stock could rise considerably.

GM: Oklahoma State people are plenty familiar with Joe DeForest–but not as a defensive coordinator. How is he adjusting to the new role? What philosophies has he already implemented?

JM: Dana Holgorsen has cut down on open practice significantly — but in the few short sessions we have seen he looks awfully comfortable. In talking with players it sounds like he and Keith Patterson have a way of simplifying things and making this transition to a 3-4 from the 3-3-5 really easy. He also sounds like a DC in interviews and talks a lot about “cutting them loose” and “not binding their feet by tying up their mind.”

GM: Who are a couple potential breakout players?

JM: Keep your eye on true freshman Jordan Thompson, a 5-foot-7 receiver from Katy, Texas that earned a starting job during camp. His size is similar to Tavon Austin, but his coaches warn that the comparison stops there…for now. Still, he’s fast, shifty, and will definitely be a playmaker. On defense there’s also a pair of true freshmen safeties: K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph – both seem to be ready to step in right away and make plays. I’d be remiss not to mention Will Clarke, moved to defensive tackle from end. He seems ready for a big year.

GM: Many peg that home game against OU in November as the one that will determine the Big 12 champ. Do you agree? Why/why not? Is there another particularly dangerous/crucial game on the schedule, in your mind?

JM: I think this team is likely to be ready for the marquee match ups, but could falter in the games where the stakes don’t quite feel as high – say Iowa State or even Kansas State. I’m not a big fan of making major predictions before I’ve seen this defense handle itself well in a few games. That said, if West Virginia can get to the Texas game 4-0, then get out of Texas 1-1 – then yes I’d say it’ll be a big one.

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