MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - His third season as West Virginia's football coach hasn't given Dana Holgorsen a lot to celebrate, but he's nevertheless thankful for many of the things he has and that he believes are still heading his way.
"I'm thankful for the Big 12," he said. "I really am. It's challenging, but we're relevant. We're learning a lot about ourselves as far as being in a power conference. It seems like I'm always complaining about it as far as where we're at, but that's not true.
"I think we're going to be extremely competitive. We have a lot of the right pieces in place. I think we're a lot better football team this year than last year, minus maybe one or two guys. Just on all three sides of the ball, direction of the program, coaches, schemes, all that stuff, I'm thankful to be where we're at and I'm looking forward to moving forward."
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WVU's SCHEDULE gave the team a beneficial break last week. A season that has no bowl game had a pause between the 11th and 12th games, which let Holgorsen use two days of practice in an off week to work out players who are on the scout team and who don't play much, if at all.
For the first time since 2001, the Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) won't play in a bowl game, which means there won't be the handful of extra practices between the end of the season and the bowl, where coaches often devote a few to advancement of the undeveloped players.
It seemed plausible the schedule would afford another opportunity. Saturday's game against Iowa State (2-9, 1-7) is one without a payoff. It simply ends a season earlier the Mountaineers wanted and sends them into the winter earlier than expected. Might Holgorsen use the 4 p.m. game (Fox Sports 1) to give some of those unknown players a chance or to audition for spring practice?
"We won't take that approach," he said. "You only get a certain amount of games and they're all important. It wouldn't be fair to our seniors, fair to the fan base or any of that if we don't put our best foot forward and try to win the game."
Holgorsen pointed out his team is in a bit of a trial stage with 10 freshmen redshirting, eight defensive players out for the season and three other starters questionable for Saturday. Offensively, right tackle Curtis Feigt also is questionable. Holgorsen said he'll have about 50 players available for the Cyclones.
"A lot of young guys already need to step up and play ball, so whoever deserves to play, whether in practice or preparing to be the next guy up, needs to get in there and play," Holgorsen said. "It's just like it was against Kansas, just like it was against Texas the week before that. We'll come up with what we feel like gives us the best chance to win do whatever we can to win the game."
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LINEBACKER DOUG Rigg, who suffered concussions against Oklahoma and Texas Tech and was thought to be out for the season, could play Saturday in the senior's final game. Rigg recovered the fumble late in the fourth quarter against USF in 2011 that set up the game-winning score that clinched the Orange Bowl bid. In the bowl, Rigg forced the fumble safety Darwin Cook returned 99 yards for a momentous touchdown.
"I feel pretty good right now," he said. "I think people have been scared for me the most, just talking about possible things that could go wrong. I haven't been afraid, though, and I'm not afraid right now.