The countdown has begun.
In less than three months-87 days from today to be exact-West Virginia will turn a new page in its storied football history as the Mountaineers will open the 2012 campaign as an official member of the Big 12.
Fans of the old gold and blue will have to wait another 28 days to see their beloved Mountaineers open conference play against the Baylor Bears-minus Heisman Trophy quarterback Robert Griffin III.
But, there will be more than enough hype between now and Sept. 1, when instate opponent (not rival) Marshall pays, what appears to be, its final visit to Milan Puskar Stadium in what should be billed as the final Friends of Coal Bowl.
Apparently, the disagreements that occurred during the severe weather stoppages in last year's game has carried over to the bargaining table as no announcement of a new contract between the two Mountain State institutions has surfaced and it does not appear as though one will.
Some will cheer while others will point accusing fingers at one another, blaming them for the demise of a contest that neither Director of Athletics deem necessary to continue. It might very well be time for fans, especially ones that hold political office, to allow the individuals charged with running the schools' athletic departments to do their jobs.
On a brighter note, depending on what preseason poll you read, the Mountaineers are either a Top 10 program on the verge of playing for a national championship, or a Top 25 squad playing for one of the many "minor" bowls that dot the postseason landscape.
In the four major polls released to date, WVU finds itself at No. 10 on Lindy's Sports Magazine's list while Phil Steele's College Football 2012 Preview has the old gold and blue ranked at No. 25.
Athlon Sports' College Football 2012 National Edition ranks the Mountaineers at No. 12 and USA Today's analyst has them one spot lower at No. 13.
Overrated or underrated, let the debate begin.
There is no doubt in my mind that Smith could have another breakout season like the one he had last year that culminated in a record-setting, 407-yard, six touchdown performance in a 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
I'm just as positive that WVU will need that kind of performance, as well as outstanding play from several other offensive players and the entire defensive unit, if it wants to compete in a Big 12 conference that has 60 percent of its members ranked among the nation's Top 25.
Contact Jim Butta at firstname.lastname@example.org