MORGANTOWN - If you're looking at the Big 12 and its annual gaudy offensive statistics, you're probably thinking it's just a collection of offensive-minded coaches who focus much of their recruiting to that side of the ball.
But that's not the case.
''It's the style of play,'' West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. ''If you look at Big 10 offenses and SEC offenses, what are they? They're two-back, run the ball, play-action, throw it over your head. In the Big 12, you're facing eight teams that spread the field horizontally as well as vertically. ''
West Virginia linebacker Doug Rigg (47) returns a fumble for a touchdown to open the scoring last Saturday against Maryland. The Mountaineers play host to Baylor on Saturday.
And they learn how to play this way at a young age.
"If you look at Texas high schools, a lot of them run this system or a form of it,'' DeForest said.
''When kids get to your school, they've already run those plays, they already understand what that offense is based on, so they're a step ahead. The kids in the Big 12 from the Texas schools and the Texas high schools are used to seeing it, used to defending it and used to running it.''
Well, they may be used to defending it, but they've never really excelled at defending it.
Last season, the Big 12 teams held four of the top 12 spots in the nation in total offense, having each played against a league defense nine times.
Though there have been only two conference games to this point, there are seven Big 12 teams ranked among the top 27 in the nation in total offense, with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech holding the top two spots. Seven league quarterbacks are in the top 20 for pass efficiency, holding the top three rankings and five of the top seven.
And they do it in the snap of a finger. Around here, we used to think of tempo only when we thought about a Ford car type. The Big 12 is the only conference in America where the center's arm gets sore. And few do it quite the way the Baylor Bears do it.
''The faster they go,'' DeForest said, ''the more plays they can get. (Our guys) are going to have to give more effort getting back to the line of scrimmage than they do during the play.''
It's one thing to hear that, but WVU linebacker Doug Rigg actually saw it when he flipped on the tape of the Baylor offense this week.
''Their tempo is on another level,'' Rigg said of the Bears. ''The first time I put on the film, I had to check and make sure it wasn't on fast-forward because those guys are just on another speed level.''
And later, he added: ''I watched the game they played last week. One time they lined up so fast, it cut off the replay they were showing. I was 'wow, I've never seen that.' If people need to come in, they need to get in the game as fast as possible.''
''You wait until you see Baylor's splits,'' DeForest said. ''They'll have a receiver 1 yard from the sideline. They'll have another receiver on the hash, and another receiver outside the hash. What they try to do is take your linebackers out of the run set, and defend. And they do a great job of that.''
It generally works. Baylor has topped 500 yards of offense in nine straight games.
''We just have to keep it simple, keep the ball in front of us. If they throw it and catch it, we have to tackle it,'' DeForest said.
''It comes down to us getting off the field. Ultimately, that's our job as a defense.''
''They have three different tempos,'' DeForest said. ''They try to catch you subbing to get 12 guys on the field. They do a lot of things that create problems.''
Some things they do, Holgorsen said, aren't legal.
''I know one thing that happens, and they are tricky about it, and I have known this for long time, but the ball will go off on their sidelines and you have a big cluster of people on their sidelines, and then they sub,'' he said.
''It doesn't look like they subbed, and then they snap it. That is against the rules, and we talked to the officials about that prior to the game. Bottom line: if they sub people, we have to sub people.''
Award-winning country music superstar Trace Adkins will perform the national anthem as part of pregame festivities ... The matchup has been designated as "Stripe the Stadium" day. Fans sitting in even-numbered section are encouraged to wear Gold to the game, while fans sitting in odd numbered sections are encouraged to wear Blue.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com