Mountaineers not phased by preseason expectations

By Michael Carvelli

DALLAS – It wasn’t difficult to tell who stole the show during Big 12 Conference Media Days this week.

Whether it was the mascot or the players and coaches, the West Virginia football team seemed front and center throughout both days. It’s been like that since the Mountaineers’ victory against Clemson in the Orange Bowl last season.

As the season draws closer and closer, the hype and expectations grow larger.

Last week when West Virginia was picked to finish second to Oklahoma in its first season in the Big 12 and senior quarterback Geno Smith was named the league’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year over the Sooners’ veteran starting quarterback Landry Jones, it solidified the fact that without even playing a down as a member of the conference yet, West Virginia had already gained respect throughout the Big 12.

The expectations entering this first season are higher than ever, but the Mountaineers aren’t worrying about them.

“I’m not surprised,” Smith said. “That’s something that we all want. When we step on the field, we want to be No. 1.

“We’ve got 12 games to prove it, and what better way to do it than out on the field?”

Smith acknowledged he enjoys being recognized among the best at a conference that’s known to produce some of the best quarterbacks in the country every season, but now he has to go out and prove he’s deserving of such recognition once his senior year starts.

“This is a prestigious conference, and it’s great to be mentioned among the guys like Landry Jones and Collin Klein, who both deserve this award just as much as I do,” Smith said. “It’s just a preseason award though, so it really doesn’t mean nothing to me. The only thing that I can control is what I go out and do on the field. I really had no emotion when I found out that (the media) picked me to be the Player of the Year.”

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen thinks his team will be able to live up to the high expectations that have been placed on them.

But the important thing is they don’t allow the confidence gained from these expectations to go to their heads and focus on winning games.

“Every game is a challenge. I don’t care who you play, where you’re at; every game’s a challenge and you view every one of them the same,” Holgorsen said. “The one reason I like our team and the kids on our team is you can tell they’re confident.

“They’ve been in big games, before and they’re used to winning. That gives you a chance.”

With that said, the players would be lying if they said they didn’t want to show the people who are doubting them they are as good as advertised and will be able to compete right away as members of the Big 12.

“It’s hard listening to all the hype, because it makes you feel like you’re better than what you probably really are; but as long as somebody like the coaches are there to keep you level-headed, you’ll be fine,” said senior inside receiver Tavon Austin, who was also named to the preseason all-Big 12 team.

“You shouldn’t go out there and try to prove people wrong. If you get together and just go out to prove to everybody who said you were good that they were right, then everything will fall into place.”

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