MORGANTOWN, W.V. -- What a difference a year makes.
Preseason camp opened Thursday at West Virginia on a balmy summer night for a team that never has been hotter.
And, if all goes according to Dana Holgorsen's plan, his No. 11-ranked Mountaineers will brush off expectations and spend the next month making the kind of strides that produced a 70-33 rout against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
"We told them we're going to handle expectations like we did last year going into the Clemson game. We didn't care what you guys wrote or what the media was saying on TV," said Holgorsen. "It's the same thing now, expectations are high, which we like, but we're not going to pay attention to it. How you handle expectations is you just do your job."
Just after noon Thursday, the Mountaineers learned the team will begin the season ranked 11th in the USA Today preseason coaches poll -- another national nod in a litany of watch lists and team rankings that have showered the program.
"It's important to be in the Top 20. The Top 20 teams get more recognition, so it's good to be there," said Holgorsen. "Are we going to throw a party about it? Probably not. Are we going to talk about it? Probably not. It's an honor to be there, and it's good for program and its good publicity, but it's not going to change anything we do."
Five hours later, in helmets but no pads, his players took the field at Milan Puskar Stadium to open preseason camp.
Missing were four signed true freshmen -- three of whom are going to prep school for academic reasons.
The fourth still is trying to qualify, according to Holgorsen.
Linebacker Sam Lebbie and receiver Deontay McManus will attend prep school along with Dee Joyner. Roshard Burney is attempting to still clear.
Present, in a knee brace, was running back Dustin Garrison, the sophomore whose health will be under scrutiny for the next month.
He rushed for 742 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman before a quick turn on the grass ended his season in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl.
"He looked like he was cutting pretty good out there," said Holgorsen. "It's the hitting that people gotta get over. Not only him, but the rest of those guys that were injured. You don't know if they're fully back until you start popping them."
Also healthy and practicing were linebackers Terence Garvin (offseason knee surgery) and Jewone Snow (offseason shoulder surgery) and corner Pat Miller (broken foot bone).
Also in the group were about 20 freshmen -- many of whom will get a crack at playing right away, said Holgorsen.
"Other than offensive line, we wouldn't be opposed to playing any one of the other guys," he said.
That brings the scholarship total 79 or 80, said Holgorsen, just shy of the magic 85 he is hoping for one day.
"Good to get back out there, obviously," he said.
"Been 31/2 months since we were able to do anything with our guys. Excited to be able to start talking football with them again. It's non-padded. It's not real football, but we're able to get started."
NOTES -- Sales have been so brisk this week since single-game tickets became available that West Virginia has suspended sales to five of six home games -- Marshall, Maryland, Baylor, Kansas State, and TCU -- pending returns from its visitors.