Big 12 moves differ for WVU, TCU

WVU's Dana Holgorsen and TCU's Gary Patterson both enter as the Big 12's newest members. Getty Images/US Presswire

FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU coach Gary Patterson doesn't have to think long to remember what life was like on the road in the Mountain West.

The quickest lesson? When the football team travels over 1,200 miles, there aren't many fans that can follow. He'd take his team to face a ranked Utah squad on the road, look up and see 200 purple shirts in a stadium of 45,000.

When the Horned Frogs trekked to other places like BYU, they might bring 1,000, but the TCU faithful would easily be drowned out by the pro-BYU crowd of nearly 65,000.

"You've got to take your own energy," Patterson said.

Life in the Big 12? Well, get ready for very welcome changes. Last season, TCU brought an eye-popping 10,000 fans to its season opener against Baylor, just over 85 miles down the road.

With more opponents in closer proximity and an energized fan base -- TCU has sold more than 31,000 season tickets for its first year in the Big 12 and its first year in a rebuilt Amon G. Carter Stadium, a school record -- Patterson will see plenty more purple shirts in the opposing stadiums this time around.

West Virginia, though? Well ...

"One of the challenges they have is the same challenge we had going to the Mountain West," Patterson said. "You're traveling so far, it's hard for a lot of people to go with you."

West Virginia's campus is 871 miles from its nearest Big 12 neighbor, Iowa State. Big 12 teams offer up 4,000 tickets to opposing teams, but it's a reasonable expectation that the Mountaineers will have to return plenty of those as the cost of seeing the team play on the road skyrocketed overnight last October when WVU announced its intentions to leave the Big East for the Big 12.

Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen didn't address the move to the Big 12 with his team this spring, and he's kept to that strategy in fall camp, too.

"These guys read the articles and magazines and the preseason this and preseason that, but from an internal standpoint, we don't talk about it," Holgorsen said. "This team is still relatively new, adding 30-some freshmen. We've got a lot to learn about ourselves before we start game prep."

When the calendar turns and the Mountaineers shift their eyes to Baylor at home on Sept. 29, the Big 12 education will begin.

Patterson has spent the better part of the last year studying up on the Big 12, watching old games on his laptop and studying the teams TCU has dreamed of playing since the school was left out of the Big 12 when the Southwest Conference collapsed.

"They're a lot better on defense than people give them credit for, to be honest with you," Patterson said of the league best known for its offenses. "Look how they played in the bowl games, look what Kansas State did to Arkansas, what West Virginia did to Clemson and what Oklahoma did to Iowa. You could go down the list."

Holgorsen knows that well, even though he helped engineer some of the best offenses in Big 12 history during nine combined seasons at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, where he called plays for a single season before leaving for West Virginia.

The biggest area the Mountaineers have an advantage? Mental toughness in tight games, a rarity for TCU.

The past two seasons, TCU has played just two total conference games decided by single digits.

All four of West Virginia's final four Big East games were decided by three points or less. Three more league games in 2010 were decided by a touchdown or less, including an overtime game.

"The one thing our kids understand out here is being in a war, being in a tight game every week. ... The seven conference games were a battle," Holgorsen said. "I don't know that TCU necessarily -- I'm not saying they're not used to that, because they've won plenty of big games -- but the parity that exists in the Big East was something that I wasn't prepared for, just having to play every week."

Doing so successfully requires depth and mental toughness, Holgorsen said.

Coincidentally, whether TCU has the former is the biggest question facing the Frogs upon their entrance in the league. TCU has plenty of bodies, but can enough of them be competitive on the Big 12 level?

Both teams will welcome plenty more national attention in joining a league that's earned plenty of respect on a national level with seven national championship game appearances and two wins in the BCS era, but it comes with the price of tougher competition, and for West Virginia, a likely lack of fans following them to road venues.

For both, the trade is well worth the cost.