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September 27, 2012
It was during a Friday walk-through for the Rutgers game last October that West Virginia received the news that they would be moving from the Big East to the Big 12 Conference and it's something head coach Dana Holgorsen remembers vividly.
And while there was excitement in the air about the potential move, there was still a season and a Big East championship left to pursue, so Holgorsen gathered his team and delivered a message.
"At one point we're going to start talking about the Big 12, but this is not the time," he said.
West Virginia would win that game against Rutgers 41-31 in route to a Big East championship and the historic Orange Bowl victory over Clemson.
Holgorsen's message stood strong until the end of last weekend's victory over Maryland, when the head coach addressed the team for the first time about the Big 12 since that day in October.
"Now the Big 12 is upon us," he said.
Coaches and players alike understand the festivities that will come with the Mountaineers playing in their Big 12 Conference opener against Baylor but the focus has to remain on the game itself and avoid any of the distractions off the field.
"It hasn't been tough (not thinking about Big 12 play). Coach Holgorsen does a great job addressing us and making sure we're staying on point with what we need to be worried about," senior quarterback Geno Smith said.
But that's not to take away from the intrigue that comes with playing a new opponent. In fact, many of the players likened Saturday's matchup to the feel of a bowl game due to the unfamiliarity between the two programs.
"It's intriguing because they don't know us, we don't know them. We got a few pointers from them because we've got coaches from the Big 12 but as far as us they don't know much," redshirt junior safety Darwin Cook said. "We'll see on Saturday."
Senior center Joe Madsen made it no secret that he's looking forward to his first taste of playing in a new league after spending the first three-years of his career in the Big East.
"New experience, new game, new people I can't wait," he said.
The players also expect the game-day atmosphere at Mountaineer Field to be electric in response to the long-awaited conference opener against a nationally ranked opponent.
"I expect the fans will be rowdy. I know everyone has been anticipating this and the Big 12 is something we've anticipated as well," Smith said. "I know it's going to be a tough game, I know those guys are going to be ready to play and my team is going to be fired up."
"I expect it to be all smiles, just like we're all smiles," senior wide receiver J.D. Woods said. "We're very excited, this is very good competition and we're just elated to be in the Big 12."
But even with Big 12 play set to begin, the Mountaineers know that this is only the first of eight games that will help decide the league championship and the focus must remain on Baylor as opposed to the big picture. And that means preparing just like they would any other week, and getting to know the Bears from a schematic standpoint.
"What we're focused on is Baylor," redshirt junior cornerback Brodrick Jenkins said.