February 14, 2012 should be considered a state holiday in West Virginia. It is the day that the litigating and power mongering ended and West Virginia was granted leave to enter into the Big 12. Mountaineer nation got its wish, having received a seat at a bigger, more impressive table than what the Big East had to offer.
Now, it's time to see what West Virginia can actually do.
When all the brass is seated comfortably in their luxury suites and Dana Holgorsen and his staff have fired up the headsets, it'll be up to quarterback Geno Smith to make good on the legal war that the university waged to get the Mountaineers in this position.
I think he'll succeed.
After the departure of Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden, the Big 12 returns a lone star quarterback in Landry Jones. Jones had more than solid numbers last year, but Oklahoma stumbled where many assumed they'd breeze through.
Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds return at receiver to help fill the void left by Ryan Broyles, but neither managed to hit the 1,000-yard mark last year.
Smith, on the other hand, is hot off engineering one of the most brutal beat downs in bowl game history. You heard the comparisons made during the game by John Gruden and Mike Tirico. To say Geno looked reminiscent of Joe Namath and Randall Cunningham is sensational and maybe even overzealous. But it's not entirely untrue, either.
Smith has shown poise since his first start as a Mountaineer. Forget for a moment his rocket-launcher arm or his ability to make plays with his feet; Smith simply owns the pocket and finishes plays without regard for defensive pressure.
It's not only Geno's edge as a born and bred competitor that should worry the Big 12 this coming season, but also the team's mentality of being chronic underdogs.
Ask Georgia, ask Clemson and ask Oklahoma, especially. For a team that is one of only 14 in the history of college football to amass more than 700 wins, West Virginia receives little praise.
I place the majority of the blame for that on the shoulders of the Big East brass. So does this guy .
West Virginia plays the underdog well, and that could be the biggest advantage they have coming into their inaugural Big 12 season.
People will likely forget that West Virginia boasts one of the nation's best receiver duos in sure-handed Stedman Bailey and do-it-all phenom Tavon Austin. Unlike Oklahoma's Stills and Reynolds, Austin and Bailey both had 1,000+ yard seasons in 2011.
Aside from returning almost everyone at the skill positions, West Virginia's line looks to be improved in 2012 with the return of guard Josh Jenkins.
The defense is still a work in progress but as Oklahoma State proved this past season, sometimes a high-powered offense can in fact balance out a less than formidable defense.
Geno has the talent and the weapons available to him to rain fire on opposing secondaries in a league not known for its defensive prowess.
The media will no doubt sensationalize Landry going into his senior year. Does he deserve preseason hype? Absolutely. But it will be a lopsided PR venture that will likely view Geno Smith as the obvious second fiddle. Someone who has had success but nothing that could have possibly prepared him for life outside of the Big East.
who will have the better season in 2012?
That's the reality of being a West Virginia fan, and the same goes for being one of its players. Respect needs to be earned time and time again. Three BCS wins against three different conferences isn't enough. Being a Heisman contender isn't enough.
Geno can only hope that West Virginia is counted against every step of the way. It will be a long road, literally and figuratively. With their closest conference opponent 900 miles away, there will be no easy traveling to away venues. But Florida is already a sizable leap from Morgantown, and if Geno Smith has ever been homesick in his college career he hasn't shown it.
Dana Holgorsen is familiar with the Big 12 landscape. Bet on him imparting every bit of that knowledge onto Geno Smith. Language, they say, is generative. Holgorsen talks the Big 12 talk. No nonsense and to the point, with a little twang thrown in. Bank on his team picking up the language fast.
Geno Smith won't make any apologies in 2012. There's no room for any of that. This is West Virginia's shot to prove that they've belonged in a legitimate AQ conference all along, and there's no doubt that Geno Smith is holding enough fire inside himself to light a massive signal fire for the entire country to see.
Consider West Virginia thrashing Clemson in Miami the initial spark.
If we wound back the game film, I'm sure we'd be able to see Geno Smith looking far off beyond Clemson's secondary. His gaze most likely locked in on Norman, Oklahoma, some 1,500 miles away.
It's that thousand-yard stare we'll see a lot in 2012 when two big guns suit up for battle in the Big 12.
Landry Jones better be ready to play. Geno's coming locked and loaded.