MORGANTOWN — It wasn’t just the “inaugural game” for West Virginia University football in the Big 12, it was a record-setter in many ways.
The Mountaineers outscored the Bears of Baylor University 70-63 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium to improve to 4-0 on the season, keep their spot in the national top 10 rankings, and go 1-0 in their new conference.
The 133 combined points and 180 plays both set West Virginia single-game records. WVU quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin set individual records. Smith had 656 yards passing and completed 54 passes, while Bailey grabbed his 26th career touchdown, a new school record. Austin caught 14 passes, a new WVU mark.
All this was in a homecoming game that was billed as much more, and lived up to its promise —unless you are a fan of effective defenses.
If the students at West Virginia University didn’t know what the Roman numeral for “12” was before this week, they should know it now.
The conference logo with its prominent “XII” has been on the synthetic turf at Mountaineer Field since summer, but it seemed to be everywhere prior to kickoff.
The massive WVU marching band formed the logo four minutes before the game began.
Fans wore white buttons stating their “love” for their new conference with a red heart beside the conference symbol.
A glossy sheet was waiting for media in the press box, noting that the confederation has produced 531 academic all-Americans, 47 national team champions and 17 top-five NFL draft picks in its 16 years of existence.
The huge video screen in the end zone ticked down the moments before the game began, displaying “The Big 12 begins in 3, 2, 1 …” followed by a roar from the crowd. Many wore blue and gold —actually, more like yellow —in alternating sections of the stadium, in an impressive effort coordinated by the university to “stripe the stadium.”
The hoopla gave way to a football matchup between the Mountaineers and the Bears, who both had unbeaten records and spots in the top 25 in both national polls.
West Virginia was ninth in The Associated Press poll and seventh in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Baylor was 25th in the AP list and 24th in the coaches’ poll. In another Big 12 note, the conference had seven teams in the national top 25 poll.
Holgorsen had said last week, “We’re not playing the Big 12, we’re playing Baylor.” But the historic significance of the first game could not be ignored by West Virginia’s players.
Linebacker Doug Rigg said in the game-day Mountaineer Illustrated, “We’re taking our season game-by-game, but it’s the Big 12 and we know it’s going to be a new level of excitement for the fans.”
Quarterback Geno Smith, a hopeful for college football’s Heisman Trophy, told AP writer John Raby, “It’s a new season, man. It’s all about the conference.”
“I’m pretty excited heading into conference play. Everybody has been waiting on this very moment,” wide receiver Stedman Bailey said.
After the game, Holgorsen said, “The atmosphere was fantastic. You saw it: The crowd was tremendous, the student section was tremendous. It was a great moment for West Virginia —and we took advantage of it.”
The Mountaineers and some of their more well-to-do fans will see a new part of the country —the state of Texas —in the next two weekends. West Virginia will play the Texas Longhorns in Austin and Texas Tech in Lubbock before returning to Morgantown for a pair of games with Kansas State and Texas Christian.
Hologorsen is quite familiar with the Big 12. He worked with the offense for eight years at Texas Tech and one year at Oklahoma State before being hired at WVU.
West Virginia was a member of the Southern Conference from 1950 to 1967. After 22 years as an independent, the school joined the Big East Conference beginning in 1991. WVU was invited to join the Big 12 last October, amid the national turmoil of conference affiliation switches, but had to settle a lawsuit with the Big East and pay that circuit a reported $20 million before being allowed to break from that league.
The Mountaineers’ quarterback, who completed 45 of his 51 passes, sounded as if he was ready to visit Texas after his school’s high-scoring conference debut.
“It did feel like one of those classic Texas shootouts,” he said with a straight face.
—Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com
(c)2012 Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.)
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