The Times West Virginian

July 22, 2012

WVU set for first Big XII media day

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — On Monday, WVU’s football representatives get a taste of just how different the Big 12 culture will be from the Big East culture as they attend their first Big 12 media day.

Gone is the Eisenhower cottage on the craggy Rhode Island shore and the pre-meeting clam bake where they ate lobster before having to eat the crow that came out of the idle boastings made at the Big East meetings. It is replaced by the glitz and glamor of Westin Galleria Hotel in north Dallas and they’ll be eating steak and barbecue.

There will be no Patti Page singing “Old Cape Cod,” that giving way to Patty Loveless and other country and western stars singing such country hits as “Timber I’m Falling In Love.”

The Big East’s martinis and wine will be traded in for longnecks and bourbon and branch water as the conference welcomes West Virginia and TCU in as the replacements for Missouri and Texas A&M, a trade that keeps the Big 12 near the top of the college football hierarchy while adding new and much-needed creditability to the Mountaineers’ profile.

The media day is a different animal in the Big 12 than it was in the Big East, being held over two days with TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech on Monday, and WVU, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas featured Tuesday.

Whereas the Big East meeting was a one-day affair in which coaches spread out across the room at separate tables and were interviewed by those interested, followed by player interviews in the same manner, the Big 12 offers the coaches at a podium to be interviewed en masse by the entire crowd.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of the schedule is that West Virginia and Oklahoma are not being put together on the first day, for in reality this move to the Big 12 seems to be coming down to a rivalry with the Sooners that well could blossom into a long-distance version of the Backyard Brawl.

Not that words have been exchanged, but already Oklahoma has been picked No. 1 in the preseason prediction poll in the conference with WVU No. 2 and, of course, the beating WVU gave Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl remains fresh in everyone’s mind, especially from Martinsburg to Morgantown as it was perhaps the most important victory in Mountaineer history.

Certainly it changed the course of events, Bill Stewart winding up landing the job as head coach after engineering that win in the vacuum created by Rich Rodriguez’s departure following the Pitt upset, and in a roundabout way that led to the eventual hiring of Dana Holgorsen and the move to the Big 12.

But it goes deeper than just that, as it appears the two top offensive players in the conference are WVU’s quarterback Geno Smith and Oklahoma’s quarterback Landry Jones, a pair of seniors with eye-boggling numbers and great leadership skills.

They are sure to be deluged with media, all of them aiming to find similarities and differences, to begin their judgments over which is the better player, the man most likely to lead his team to the title and to go on to a long and successful NFL career.

Smith is not the kind of player who would be willing to pit himself against Jones, least of all in a media setting. He is focused toward only winning.

“I never think like that,” Smith said. “Every game has its own life and every play has its own life. Every play is as important to me as the first play or the last play. I don’t play football that way. I wasn’t brought up like that.

“I believe that no one man is bigger than the game and no one man is bigger than the team. I focus on the team aspect of it. I think that’s what makes me a good quarterback.”

The choice of Smith over Jones caused controversy in Big 12 territory, where Jones was looked upon as the man. But he was back in school as a senior because his junior season was disappointing, throwing two fewer touchdowns than Smith’s 31 and more than double Smith’s seven interceptions.

But this is more than just “Alias Smith and Jones.” Last year’s breakout player, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, will be there answering questions not only about his place among the league’s QBs but the surprising choice of the Wildcats as sixth in the Big 12.

A top-name quarterback leads a list of stars who won’t be on hand, Oklahoma State starting QB Wes Lunt. Coach Mike Gundy has a rule against first-year players speaking with the media and is sticking with it even though he has named the true freshman his starter.

Texas’ starting quarterback David Ash also won’t be on hand and neither will be WVU receiver Stedman Bailey, Coach Dana Holgorsen bringing seniors Smith and Tavon Austin instead of Bailey, a junior.

There is much for the media to feast on, including getting the first chance to talk with TCU players since they were withheld from interviews following a campus drug sting that ended with four players arrested.

Former Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis, who will be trying to rebuild Kansas, is sure to be a media favorite, too, while Texas’ Mack Brown will address putting his Longhorns back into the national picture.

The best news is that no one will be talking about the insecurity of the future of the Big 12 or even expansion talk will probably be limited, as it hardly seems to be on the front burner.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.