Some old friends return to Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday.
Wolves in sheep's clothing.
Four West Virginia coaches — Dana Holgorsen, Joe DeForest, Robert Gillespie and Jake Spavital — once served the Cowboys and served them well. Especially DeFo, who devoted 11 years to Oklahoma State as a special teams coordinator, defensive assistant and recruiting rock star.
Yet make no mistake, while this bunch might find some fond memories the visit, their full focus is making memories for the Mountaineers, at OSU's expense.
And they'll be out for blood, scrambling to right a rocky first season in the Big 12, entering at 2-3 in conference play after opening as a popular pick to win the league championship.
And they'll use every available resource, including inside information, in their effort to reclaim some respect and wreck OSU's own hopes at a rebound from a weekend loss at No. 2 Kansas State.
That inside information: familiarity with many Cowboy players, as well as intricate knowledge of offensive and defensive philosophies.
“I don't think there's any doubt that Joe knows our personnel and knows our defensive schemes inside-out and backwards,” said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. “I think that'll be a huge advantage for them.
“And Dana, having been here, he's seen us. He knows what we do.”
Within that knowledge, DeForest and Holgorsen and the others have an understanding of certain OSU players' strengths.
And, as offensive coordinator Todd Monken points out, their weaknesses.
“You can't do anything about it,” Monken said. “You just have to go play and try to execute it better than they defend it.”
When Holgorsen went to work building his staff, he did so strategically, accumulating coaches with knowledge of the Big 12 and its prime recruiting grounds.
Holgorsen, of course, had that after stints at Texas Tech, Houston and OSU. DeForest was embedded as a talented Houston-area recruiter. Gillespie and Spavital had short stints in Stillwater, while cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts is a Texas alum. Co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is a former Oklahoma prep coach and Tulsa assistant who ran up against Big 12 teams on many occasions with the Golden Hurricane.
They know the lay of the land.
Back in the summer, Holgorsen said: “We're not going to go into a hornet's nest without knowing about it. Now, that in itself isn't going to win you any games, but I do think it will be beneficial in the long run.”
Never, perhaps, will it be as beneficial as Saturday in Stillwater.
The knowledge works both ways, of course, with the Cowboys knowing what makes DeForest and Gillespie and Holgorsen — well, maybe not the quirky Holgorsen — tick. But the only thing they have on the Mountaineers players is what they see on film.
“We get a little advantage, too, because we got to see what he does,” Young said of Holgorsen. “And we worked against him. I don't know if it's a push, but it's something.”
Unlike the real world, there are no noncompete clauses when coaches depart for other jobs. Ideally, they don't switch sides to the enemy, but sometimes that's the way it works, especially when assistants seek advancement.
And that's understood.
“I'm happy for them,” Monken said. “People ought to be happy for Dana, he went there and became head coach. They ought to be happy for Joe. They elevated themselves.
“We just have to figure out a way to play better.”
And beat back the wolves, even if their snarls are disguised as familiar smiles.
“It's a real challenge, because you want to play well against them,” Young said.
“You'd rather beat your brother than beat your neighbor. That's the philosophy I've got.”