Mountaineers quickly earn respect

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DALLAS -- If Tommy Tuberville had his way, West Virginia would have joined the Big 12 another year from now.

Why? Quarterback Geno Smith would be gone.

Tuberville, the colorful head coach from Texas Tech, made the remark tongue-in-cheek circled by reporters Monday at Big 12 media days.

It's notable because it underscores an opinion widely and openly shared by the Mountaineers peers: West Virginia will compete immediately in its new conference for a championship.

"It's an upper-echelon program that knows how to win and has the talent and the coaching to compete immediately in the Big 12 Conference," said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, a former Pitt defensive coordinator. "I would expect them to come in and compete for a conference championship. They're that level of program and always have been."

The Mountaineers were tagged to finish No. 2 behind Oklahoma in a preseason poll released last week voted on by the league's media -- largely based on the team's prolific offense led by Smith, named the preseason player of the year.

And all accounts Monday indicated that ranking is shared by coaches and players.

"I think it's fair to say our league, when you add West Virginia and TCU, two teams coming off bowl wins, two ranked football teams, you put them with the rest of what we've been doing here in the Big 12 that our league is every bit as strong as it's ever been, if not stronger," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "They're both teams used to winning championships. So it's going to be tough. It's made the league really difficult."

The move to the Big 12 has been considered critical to the future of the program because of the financial gain that will come with aligning with a power conference.

But for all of the praise heaped upon the move, the optimism has often been tempered with the idea that the Big 12 will be a far more difficult league to compete in than the Big East.

After all, the Big 12 holds the bar high for offense -- the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, left Baylor for the NFL.

On Monday though, that idea seemed to vanish.

TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga said he can't wait to face Smith.

"He's elusive. He knows what he's doing and I can't wait to play against him and get a hold of him," he said.

Consider the intricate knowledge Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker already has of Smith's tendencies.

"I know he's got a post throw that's right on the dot coming off the hash," Walker said. "I know that he makes three looks before he comes out of the pocket then takes off for the run. I know he waits, he hesitates before he runs. He waits to see all five of his receivers before he makes that run.

"Geno Smith in the fourth quarter, we know some of the things to expect from him."

The biggest transition the Mountaineers will face, said Rhoads, is the layers of talent on both sides of the ball.

"What's different about our league and the Big East is the depth and that's something they're very much going to have to survive. Not just in 2012 but beyond," Rhoads said.

TCU coach Gary Patterson, whose Horned Frogs also will debut in the Big 12, said he tries to calm the hyperbole.

Patterson said he continually reminds players and fans: "You have not arrived because you're in the Big 12. You've got to win in the Big 12."

Monday media met with the coaches and players from TCU, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas Tech.

West Virginia will be available today along with Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Baylor. wvusports

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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