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Mountaineer Minute: For These Mountaineers, the Big 12 Can Wait

November 3, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - While the news of West Virginia's impending move to the Big 12 was heralded state-wide during the weekend, it barely made a ripple inside the Mountaineers locker room.

They've still got work to do - and it's not in any courtroom.

''Last week when it became official on Friday, we brought the guys together for about 30 seconds and told them it was official,'' WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. ''But then we told them it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean anything with this week and it doesn't mean anything next week.''

No, it doesn't. To them, it never did.

''I think our guys did a good job of just focusing on the task at hand,'' Holgorsen said. ''Kids are a little more short-sighted. They see a task and that's what they focus on. They're not worried about West Virginia University five years from now, I can assure you that.

''Right now, they're worried about class, what they're doing Wednesday night, who the opponent is Saturday and what they're doing after the game. I doubt very many of them know who our opponent is past this opponent right now. From a players' standpoint, I don't think it was a distraction. We'll continue to talk about it and make sure that we focus on whatever's in front of us and that's what we have to worry about.''

The Mountaineers control their own destiny the rest of this season and would like nothing more than to get themselves in the uncomfortable situation of posing with Big East commissioner John Marinatto and a gigantic BCS bowl-game trophy on their way out the door.

''It's an honor for us to be in the Big 12, but that's something in the future,'' quarterback Geno Smith said.

''We have to take care of these next four games. We're going to face some tough teams and everyone has to focus in on the task at hand, which is Louisville right now. We're all keying in on what we have to do to win this game.''

Louisville is actually the school that was reportedly involved in a ''hiccup'' concerning West Virginia's admittance in the Big 12 last week, though conference officials wouldn't go so far as to confirm that. The furthest they went was to say Louisville was a fine school.

Cardinals coach Charlie Strong was asked about that as part of the buildup to this week's game, and he essentially said it doesn't trickle down too far and it's unlikely his players have even given it an ounce of thought.

Back to the Mountaineers.

Sometimes questions get a little silly on Tuesdays when the media meets with the WVU players. Someone asked Bruce Irvin, a senior with five more games left in his Mountaineers career, what he thought of the move.

''The Big 12, that will take care of itself next year,'' said Irvin, who celebrated a birthday Tuesday.

'' Right now it's all about the Big East.''

His thoughts on the future are a little closer to home.

''My day is coming to an end at Mylan Puskar Stadium,'' he said. ''I'm just trying to make plays and make these fans happy. It's the final two. I feel like I just got here.''

West Virginia's defense went through a recent stretch of giving up 80 points in six quarters. This is an issue that needs some immediate attention. For that, the Big 12 can wait, according to defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.

''I don't really care about that,'' Casteel said. ''That's for down the road. Obviously we want to try to win every game, whether we're in the Big East or the Big 12 or whatever we're in. We want to win our league.''

When it happens, Holgorsen, who cut his coaching teeth in the south and southwest, will have a homecoming of sorts.

''Our task at hand is the same as what it was in August, which is to win the Big East,'' Holgorsen said.

''That's what our challenge is, that's what our goal is. That's what all our focus, effort and energy is on.

''With that said, as a program, I'm excited, I can assure you that. I understand the Big 12 and what they're about from a national perspective, from a facilities perspective and academic perspective. The amount of changes and challenges that are going to take place here at West Virginia is something that will take a long time to get done. It's a huge task - it's not an overnight fix. It's great to be able to solidify our future and what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to be successful.''

The greatest benefit from knowing the future - assuming a lawsuit against the Big East turns out the way WVU wants it to - is that coaches now have a few answers.

''It's nice,'' Holgorsen said. ''That was one of the challenges of knowing what to say. Whatever we show on film to get better, move on or go practice from a futures standpoint, from raising money, to facilities, to recruiting and all things that affect the future, it makes things easier.

"You know where you're headed, you know where you're going and you know what you've got to do.''

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net