By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
As the mid-July temperature soared over this past week, making even a trip down the street to the local swimming pool a rather unbearable journey, there was much griping to be heard.
Yet, for some of us, it was to be greeted much as the first robin of spring, a forerunner of a wonderful time, for you cannot have the opening of football camp without searing temperatures that do more to put an athlete into shape than the most modern contraption in West Virginia’s newly modeled weight room.
Early this week the Big 12 holds its annual media day in Dallas, a time when all things Big 12 football are discussed, from the officiating to the quarterbacking to the coaching. It’s a time when no one has yet lost a game and when the football season is nothing less than a Wonderland about to be entered.
True, it is about as different for West Virginia coming into this season as any season ever could be, and certainly the Mountaineers come into this year’s media day in a situation that never could have been imagined.
A year ago WVU was the talk of the conference, a newcomer that was going to teach the Oklahomas and Texases a thing or two. The Mountaineers were expected to contend, maybe even win, the conference title and with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey create a kind of excitement that people in this southwestern section of the United States had come to expect over the years from their own string of Heisman Trophy winners and All-Americans.
This past week Coach Dana Holgorsen looked back upon it in an interview with Yahoo! Sports Radio 1560 in Houston.
“Going into it last year we were picked high, the expectations were high and it was kind of a setup job based on winning the Orange Bowl and the way that we did it,” he said. “We had some star power coming back and the newness of the Big 12 everybody was excited about us coming in. And it was fun.
“It was competitive and we had some good games,” he added. “We didn’t win as many of them as we wanted to, but still it was pretty competitive and a lot of fun.”
Indeed, after a spectacular 5-0 start the reality of the world’s worst defense set in and the season evaporated into a 7-6 debacle that included an embarrassing loss in an embarrassing bowl game for a team that once ranked as high as the top 5 in the nation.
Now it is that year later, WVU has been selected to finish eighth among the 10 Big 12 teams by the media and they head into camp without so much as knowing who will quarterback the team, the competition being triangular between a transfer from Florida State with some experience, last season’s backup and a redshirt from last year.
“Our quarterback race is wide open. Ford (Childress) has four years left. Paul Millard, for the balance, has got three years left and our transfer, Clint Trickett from Florida State, has got two years left and is immediately eligible. Those three guys have just got to compete,” Holgorsen said.
Even with Holgorsen’s unmatched record putting offenses together, that makes this a challenge, especially since his receiving corps was depleted with the loss of the two greatest receivers in the school’s history and most of the offensive line.
In fact, the most promising offensive weapon is a running back/receiver named Charles Sims who is transferring in from Houston with just one year’s eligibility. This dual purpose back comes with credentials good enough to be named the conference’s preseason newcomer of the year, which is nice but not nearly as meaningful as earning the postseason honor.
“We’re excited to have Charles on board,” Holgorsen admitted. “I was involved with the recruiting process for Charles and Charles’ true freshman year was my last year as coordinator. I was able to coach him that one year and that was his best year statistically from a running, receiving and a combination of both in total yards.”
Interestingly, this is being profiled as something of a transition year for WVU, but normally transition seasons do not come after 7-6 records.
Building a stock of talent to refill the shelves is the order of the day, for WVU no longer lines up across from Rutgers, Connecticut, Syracuse and the likes. That’s Bevo on the sideline there in Austin and it’s “Boomer Sooner” being played by the band in Norman.
“We’ve got to improve our people, there is no doubt about that,” Holgorsen said in his radio interview. “Everybody thinks we had a tremendous amount of talent and just over-the-top guys because we had Tavon, Stedman and Geno, but the truth of the matter is every position has to get upgraded. The Big 12 is good. It’s deep.
“We’ve got to continue to try and raise the bar. We need to upgrade our talent level. We need to continue to get better players in there to be able to win the Big 12.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.