Road to realizing expectations begins now
MORGANTOWN - Expectations can be a funny thing.
Let's face it, the last time Dana Holgorsen convened his football team for a camp of sorts, anticipations were a bit mixed, right?
After all, West Virginia had just completed a rather diversified season that included the highs of a 4-1 start and fairly competitive game against then-No. 2 LSU, an embarrassing stretch that included a blowout loss to Syracuse and a home defeat to Louisville, then pretty much snuck into a BCS bowl berth while rooting for other teams to win or lose in order to set up a complex tiebreaker in just the right way.
So few went into the December run-up to that Orange Bowl against Clemson imagining that it would be a program-altering event. A win? Sure, maybe. And then the Mountaineers beat the spread by, oh, 40 points, hung 70 on the Tigers and suddenly everything was different.
Were it not for that one game - those three surreal hours in Miami or, to pin it down even further, the 30 minutes of real time in the second quarter it took to lay waste to Clemson - would expectations be nearly what they are for the 2012 Mountaineers? Probably not.
Yet here we are. West Virginia's players reported to camp Wednesday. They begin August camp today. The season begins in a month when Marshall comes to town and then, four weeks later, the Big 12 becomes an on-field reality for the first time.
Expectations for West Virginia, for quarterback Geno Smith and the offense, for life in the Big 12, could hardly be any higher.
Now the trick is to live up to them. The next four weeks might be the most important time of all, even though there's nary a game to be played.
This is where teams are molded and formed, just as was the case in that December camp leading up to the Orange Bowl.
"It sounds like everybody thinks that we're pretty good, or that Geno is pretty good,'' Holgorsen said. "But I think a lot is based on what happened the last game of the year. In all my years - for 12 straight bowl games, all my years of December practice time - I think we got better in the month of December last year more than we ever have.''
If this team has any designs at all on fulfilling expectations for 2012, it has to do the same thing again. When Holgorsen and his staff wrap things up at the end of August, they have to be able to look around and say, "Wow, we're a whole lot better than we were four weeks ago.''
That's not always easy because, in part, of those expectations.
"You can't get ahead of yourself, I guess,'' Holgorsen said. "That's what camp's all about. If you think a guy is reading his press clippings, then it's your job as a coach to make sure you bring them down.''
Know this, though: The potential is there. The defense has to be constructed from the ground up and the kicking game has to develop some consistency, but the offense that put 70 on the board against Clemson might be even better. That's a good place to start a team in the point-a-minute Big 12.
"I think we've got some guys,'' Holgorsen said. "There's Geno, and Tavon Austin is potentially one of the more dynamic guys I've been around, so he's got a chance to be good.''
If the Mountaineers are good, people will know it. In the Big East, they played in a bit of a vacuum. The league got no respect, so it was hard for its members to rise above that.
"What's awesome about the Big 12 as opposed to where we were last year is just the national exposure,'' Holgorsen said. "It's going to be West Coast to East Coast and they're going to be put in some venues to be able to shine if they can handle that.
"And that's our job as coaches, to put them in those positions and make sure that they're prepared and then get them on that stage and see what they can do from there.''
And what of those expectations? It was easy to manage them in December leading up to the Orange Bowl because there were few. Now it's a different story all together.
"Managing expectations is part of our job,'' Holgorsen said. "But it's obviously better to have high expectations than it is low expectations.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.