WVU takes strong reputation to Big 12

| Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

DALLAS — West Virginia hasn't played a game in the Big 12 Conference, yet the Mountaineers have already generated water-cooler talk around the league.

West Virginia was picked to finish second in the conference behind Oklahoma, which entered last season ranked No. 1 in the nation. Senior quarterback Geno Smith was selected as the league's preseason offensive player of the year ahead of Oklahoma senior quarterback Landry Jones, who was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2011.

The Big 12 hasn't seen much of the Mountaineers in person. However, their reputation already precedes them.

“They'll come in and compete immediately,'' Iowa State coach and former Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said Monday at Big 12 media day. “I would expect them to come in and compete for a conference championship; they're that level of program.''

West Virginia's players understand the challenge they'll face while taking a step up in competition.

The Mountaineers realize that coming from the Big East, they'll be expected to play with more consistency against Big 12 teams, which had six members finish in the final Top 25 poll last season.

“It'll be a big transition, but they're saying we're playing NFL teams. It's ridiculous,'' West Virginia sophomore linebacker Jared Barber said. “Yeah, we talk about it. I think we understand what's in front of us. It'll be bigger, but I don't think it'll be what everybody's making it out to be. We're going to play West Virginia football and not worry about who we're playing.''

West Virginia will be playing in a league so talented that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby declared, “We have the uniqueness this year of having the start of the season with three conference champions (Oklahoma State, Big 12; West Virginia, Big East; TCU, Mountain West). We had six teams win 10 games last year. The talent pool in the Big 12 takes a back seat to no organization.''

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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