MORGANTOWN — In the course of a normal season, a school such as West Virginia often eases into play.
Unable to play pre-season games like the professionals, major college schools usually face a lesser opponent such as William and Mary, Coastal Carolina and Liberty, all of whom WVU has faced to start the season over the past five years.
This, however, is not a normal season.
Awaiting West Virginia on opening day, which is Aug. 30 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, is Alabama, always a contender for the national championship under Coach Nick Saban and ranked No. 2 this year.
This changes a lot about how West Virginia prepares itself to enter the season and how coach Dana Holgorsen will handle his team.
In a normal year a team like WVU goes against a Coastal Carolina or Liberty fired up because it is the season opener, but it there is certain confidence that goes with the game. While a season opener often is depicted as a venture into the unknown, in college football the only thing that is unknown often is whether or not the team will beat the point spread.
Facing Alabama changes Holgorsen’s entire coaching approach.
“My job gets harder after that game, win or lose,” Holgorsen said.
At first that sounds absurd.
Would not his job be tougher to get WVU ready to play Alabama than after they have played the Crimson Tide?
“We haven’t talked a lot about our schedule. It’s up; they know who we’re playing. The motivation is probably different. That’s going to be a huge game in a big atmosphere. We won’t have to say a whole lot about that,” Holgorsen said.
You need no “Leave No Doubt” speeches in a game like Alabama.
Not playing in professional stadium. Not playing on national TV. Not playing one of college football’s true legends.
No, just open the door and turn ‘em loose.
Emotionally they will be fine.
But then what?
Where is a coach if his team loses a game they are so fired to win? Does the season teeter in the balance?
And what if they win?
As spectacular as that would be Mountaineer Nation, for the team in the locker room Holgorsen and staff will face a problem of bringing them back down to earth for there are 11 more games including Towson, Maryland and Oklahoma — yes Oklahoma — before there is a week off.
“How you respond from(the Alabama game) is where the coaching is going to have to come into play,” he said.
The game is interesting, too, if you look at from the other side.
What must it be like to be Alabama? The good part is because of your history, because of your success, you tend to intimidate opponents, much the way the Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig Yankees intimidated opponents, the way the Big Red Machine intimidated opponents, the way the Miami Hurricanes at their prime did.
That helps Alabama.
On the flip side, though, you wear a target every time you step on the field.
Every team that goes against you is as fired up as West Virginia will be and if you leave in the game, the way Alabama left Auburn in the game last year, there’s a chance the target on your back will be hit.
Holgorsen discounts the idea that his team will be intimidated.
“We play a lot of good teams in the Big 12. Alabama is a storied program, but so is Oklahoma; so is Texas. Oklahoma State is pretty good, TCU is pretty good, and Texas Tech is pretty good, Kansas State is pretty good – the list goes on,” he said.
“Every game is big so I don’t think our guys will be very intimidated by it. Our guys will be ready to play. They’ll go in there and they’ll be excited about the opportunity.”
And that’s what it is, an opportunity.
Right now, these are just nameless, faceless foes to Holgorsen and, he hopes his team.
“We haven’t talked about it. I don’t pay any attention to the rankings,” he said. “I don’t pay any attention to what they think about us at this point. either. We’ll start talking about the first game two weeks out and start preparing for it about two weeks out.
“I don’t have to say anything about it. They know what the schedule is. We play in one of the most challenging conferences in the country and arguably have the toughest schedule in the country when you add in a couple of those non-conference games. They know that and they view that as an opportunity to be able to have a pretty good year.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel