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Holgorsen OK with underdog role

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WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said lower expectations for his team means less pressure on his players.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins has always maintained that there's little comfort in being an underdog. The West Virginia basketball coach has said time and again that, given the choice, he'd much prefer walking onto the court, looking down at the other team and thinking, "Yeah, we should beat them.''

Dana Holgorsen? Well, he no doubt feels the same way.

Still, given his current station as the coach of a West Virginia football team that figures to be largely overlooked when the 2013 season begins, there are some advantages.

"It's night and day from what it was last year,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday. "But from a coaching perspective it's a little bit easier to get their attention.''

Indeed, the differences between the end of spring drills in 2012 and Saturday's wrap-up to the 2013 spring are significant, both mentally and on the chalkboard.

A year ago, West Virginia was coming off a 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, had virtually its entire offense returning and was considered a contender not only in the Big 12, but nationally. Yes, there were issues to be addressed defensively, but those seemed to pale in comparison to the advantages the Mountaineers had in hand.

This year, the bowl memory is of a dispiriting loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. Nearly every significant piece of the offense is gone. And while the defense is experienced, restructured and should be better, it still has to face a lineup of opponents in arguably the most explosive offensive league in the country.

Yet in a way, there are advantages to being in that situation. They certainly aren't the kind of advantages one would choose, but low expectations surely lessen the pressure.

"Well, it's certainly made things easier from a coaching perspective,'' Holgorsen said. "Last year we did our best to put our guys on high alert and to be guarded as far as what you're listening to in the media.

"This year's just completely different. There are no expectations whatsoever.''

When the Big 12 coaches and players gather for their media days in late July, just before fall camp begins, West Virginia is likely to be picked in the coaches poll much closer to the bottom than the top. That's pretty much uncharted territory for the Mountaineers, who since 2004 have been picked to finish lower than second in their league just once in league-sponsored preseason polls.

Of course, all those polls prior to last season were in the Big East.

"Everybody likes to be patted on the back, so they're probably missing the fact that they get patted on the back all the time,'' Holgorsen said. "But welcome to the Big 12. We played eight opponents in the Big 12 that went to bowls and it's a competitive situation. Everybody in the Big 12 is going to be tough.

"That [realization] is something we had to go through from a player standpoint, an administration standpoint, a fan base standpoint. It's something you have to go through to truly understand it.''

Even with those high expectations, West Virginia suffered through a 7-6 season. Now they get to try it from the other end. As far as Holgorsen is concerned, that's just fine.

"I'm sure they miss the pats on the back,'' Holgorsen said. "But with that said, I think we've got a bunch of guys that like to play football, a bunch of guys that are motivated to get better, a bunch of guys that are excited about where we're at from a conference standpoint.

"So we've kind of got their attention. We've had a great 14 weeks since the bowl game and we expect to get a lot better here in the next 14 weeks leading into camp.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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