MORGANTOWN - There's little use arguing the idea that West Virginia isn't about to embark on its most anticipated football season in history.
Not only are the Mountaineers no longer in a conference that has become one of college football's laughingstocks, they're in one that is among the most respected in the land. And they're expected to compete at a high level in it from the word go.
None other than legendary coach Barry Switzer, a man whose allegiances to one Big 12 school in particular (Oklahoma) run deeper than the gas wells and higher than the gas prices, has publicly stated he thinks the Mountaineers are the league favorites.
And why not?
They've got a record-breaking, Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, a veteran offensive line, the most productive group of receivers in school history, a defense that lacks star power but figures to be quietly effective, home-run threats on special teams and a hot-shot head coach who doesn't stop until he gets to 77.
They've got a home schedule that, for this most part, is must-see, figures to be well worth the ticket costs, and might well cause weekly gridlock from Waynesburg to Clarksburg.
All of this means the expectations are hovering somewhere near the moon, and that hasn't always worked well for West Virginia teams in the past. Is there a good reason this program didn't win the Big East title outright each of the last eight seasons?
Still, you have to like the attitude of the current players, who readily admit the hoopla of playing in the Big 12 is in the back of their minds, but they're spending all of their energies on getting good enough to beat Marshall in the opener.
''We take it day by day,'' linebacker Jared Barber said. ''It's the Big 12; it's a tough conference. But it doesn't matter, we're West Virginia. No matter who we play, we're going to be West Virginia and play the way we play.''
Barber said something else along those lines when asked if a guy who came from a small high school ever thought he'd be regularly lining up on a football field against teams like Texas and Oklahoma?
''Shoot, I'm at West Virginia,'' he said. ''That's pretty big.''
That's often forgotten around here. Just last year when ESPN's GameDay was in Morgantown, someone asked Erin Andrews if she thought WVU could ever get back among the nation's elite?
She was confused by the question, basically wondering when, exactly, the Mountaineers fell? They're sitting on a string of winning nine or more games in six straight seasons, something only four other programs in the country can claim.
If after doing that, you're still looked at as on the outside looking in by anyone, then it's time to take the next step, which is to stop getting beat by the random Syracuses of the world - to live up to the hype.
''We're definitely not backing down or shy or scared of the competition or the road ahead of us,'' Barber said. ''We're ready to start.''
Offensive lineman Pat Egar thinks the time to reward WVU fans in a big way is now.
''The whole state of West Virginia is always behind us,'' he said. '''I'm from Pittsburgh. Steeler Nation I could compare to West Virginia fans. They are just like that, maybe better because we're the only team in the state.
''Their expectations just push us and make us better. All summer, we work every day to try to get better as individuals, as units, as a team and get out there and do our best this season.''
This group's best could well be historical for WVU football in that it lived up to the hype.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org