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Switzer-Nehlen reunion symbolic as WVU heads into Big 12

AS PART of the Mountaineer Athletic Club's spring tour of West Virginia, former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer will act as a greeter to the Big 12 today and Thursday in Wheeling and Parkersburg, respectively.

MSN's John Antonik spoke to Switzer, who said the appearance was through former WVU coach Don Nehlen. "Don is a real good friend of mine," Switzer said, "even after that beating he put on me" in 1982.

Last week in this space, ex-WVU and NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler recounted the Mountaineer victory in Norman, Okla. Switzer also remembers it, specifically Hostetler's contributions.

"He was excellent and he has proven that," the coach told Antonik. "He was a great player, and when he won a Super Bowl that puts you at the top of the game, and he did that. We knew he was good that day we played, and it was one of those days when they were the better team."

As has been pointed out, it was a watershed moment for the Mountaineers. It was the beginning of what I call the Flying WV Era. Nehlen began his coaching career in Morgantown in 1980 with a 41-27 win over Cincinnati in the first game at Mountaineer Field. Two seasons later, he made that mark by winning by the exact same score - but against Oklahoma.

Now, West Virginia is joining forces with Oklahoma in the Big 12. The hot topic has been how the Mountaineers will fare.

Pundits looking ahead believe they'll fare well. The Mountaineers have been placed in many early preseason Top 25 lists.

There are many reasons for the confidence. There's the skill returning to West Virginia's offense. Geno Smith is one of the nation's top returning quarterbacks.

But there's also this nugget: WVU has a winning record against the programs set for the Big 12 next season. In fact, the Mountaineers are 9-4 all-time against them.

Although West Virginia has never played Baylor (set as the Mountaineers' first conference game) and Iowa State, it is 1-0 versus Kansas, 1-1 versus Kansas State, 2-2 versus Oklahoma, 2-1 versus Oklahoma State, 1-0 versus TCU, 1-0 versus Texas (surely you remember that 1956 7-6 Mountaineer victory in Austin) and 1-0 versus Texas Tech.

Note that of the seven Big 12 programs played, WVU has faced Oklahoma more than any other. Nehlen's victory was the most significant.

"The Florida [Peach Bowl] win before that was, well, probably a fluke," Nehlen said on a visit to Charleston last week. "But the Oklahoma game put us into the so-called upper echelon of college football."

So it's both appropriate and symbolic to invite Switzer. It should be a kick for those in Wheeling and Parkersburg to see a reunion of the coaches. Both have always been outspoken.

Nehlen again proved that while here.

"I don't know much about the Big 12, except I know it'll be more competitive than the Big East," said the former Mountaineer coach. "The only thing that's tough in my eyes is the travel for the average fan. They'll have a tough time going to away games.

"They can drive to Pitt. They can drive to Syracuse, Rutgers or Cincinnati. But [the Big 12 is] more prestigious. And it will be fun to go to our stadium and see Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, teams we've never seen."

So change is good?

"I never like to use the word 'change,' " Nehlen said. "I like to use the word 'improvement.' I never, ever told my team we were going to change anything. I always told them we were going to improve on what we were doing. Because with change, a lot of times people go, 'Whoa.'

"So, in my opinion, we just improved ourselves."

Nehlen, though, always leaves one thinking. He did it again while visiting.

"It will be exciting and we have a good football team," said the coach. "We have a lot of skill on this team. Now, will we be able to stop anybody?"

Switzer can emphatically say yes.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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