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WVU football: Mountaineers in better spot than most in Big 12

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In the middle of the day in the middle of last week, I called Alex Hammond, West Virginia's director of football operations, and he answered on the third ring.

Don't discount the achievement when dealing with arguably the busiest man in the Puskar Center. Not only that, but he was eating lunch and rather than interrupt that rare free moment, he agreed to call back afterward. And he did.

It's different now at WVU. Things are falling into place in and around the program, which is about to hire an assistant director of operations - and that's a pretty good indication about how serious the Mountaineers are taking their game as they take up residence in the Big 12 in a little fewer than eight weeks.

There seems to be a certain wavelessness in these uncharted waters.

Dana Holgorsen skipped that coach-in-waiting thing and has been in charge for just shy of a year now. His noted offense is being shaped and led by trusted assistants who know the system and who know the university, the state and the people within both. There's significant continuity with the depth chart on both sides of the ball.

After a tumultuous 18 months and events never considered, let alone witnessed, might things be settled at WVU?

Not exactly.

Begin first and foremost with the new conference affiliation and all the dynamics involved. Travel. Hotels. Stadiums. Crowds. Weather. Recruiting. On and on. Then there's the opposition and jumping from the Big East to the Big 12 is akin to the ice cube tray to the fire.

In the past four years, WVU played three ranked Big East teams. Three! Not one conference opponent was ranked in 2008 and 2010. The 2012 Mountaineers are probably going to see three in a row when they play TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in November.

By the way, the game before that stretch? It's against Kansas State, which won 10 games last season, represented the league in the Cotton Bowl and returns a bunch of talent on offense, including its quarterback, who tied an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns at his position last season.

In all, six Big 12 teams could be ranked in the preseason poll and, who knows, Iowa State could have a number next to its name when it plays host to WVU two days after Thanksgiving.

And along for the ride in this offensively adept conference is an entirely new defensive staff and scheme. The coordinator, Joe DeForest, knows the Big 12. He spent 11 years at Oklahoma State, going as far back as the Les Miles days, so he's familiar with the way teams throw the football there.

Yet he's never been a coordinator and his reputation for his work with special teams is, at this time, greater than what he's done on defense.

His co-coordinator is Keith Patterson and this is his third school in three years. The defensive line coach is Erik Slaughter, who was at the FCS level the previous three years and the Division II level for a season before that.

Coaching the cornerbacks is Daron Roberts, who coached the outside receivers last season, which was his first as a college coach at any level.

The most veteran member of the entire coaching staff is Steve Dunlap, who was the safeties coach the past four years, but is now coordinating special teams and lending insight with the outside linebackers.

These all are, or could be, good coaches and it's not fair to hold experience against them, whether at their position, at the school, in the conference or in the FBS. But time does matter because sometimes things take time.

Look at WVU's offense. Hard to argue any of those coaches aren't, or can't be, good coaches. Yet the offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, was new to the FBS last season. Jake Spavital had only been a graduate assistant before he was put in charge of the quarterbacks. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and running backs coach Robert Gillespie are vets, but they were new to the school and the Big East in 2011.

Things ended just fine, but through two-thirds of the season, Holgorsen changed his inaugural season and called plays and coached games differently. It worked out, though in a more forgiving league.

And then with that priceless time as a commodity, he and his guys game-planned the 70-33 Orange Bowl victory.

Still, it's hard to shake this one feeling about WVU: It's a good time to make this move to the Big 12. They have their obstacles to overcome and their wrinkles to iron out over time, but the Mountaineers are in a position that is better than, or no worse, than most of the Big 12.

Kansas has a new coach after a two-win season. Texas Tech had one of the worst defenses in the nation last season and this season will be working with a mostly new defensive staff. Iowa State has two quarterbacks it likes, but not one it trusts unquestionably, while Baylor is replacing its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

WVU has been through the new coach and the distracting defensive staff and has no worries at quarterback.

Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU all figure to be in the conference title conversation, but WVU wouldn't change places with any of them. Kansas State runs a lot and needs three starters on the line. Texas shuffled quarterbacks all last season. Oklahoma State is going with a true freshman quarterback. TCU is making the same move WVU is into a new league.

They all figure to be chasing Oklahoma, but the gap between the presumed leader and the pursuant pack isn't that great.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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