MORGANTOWN-West Virginia's 70-33 victory over Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl has raised expectations surrounding the Mountaineers' inaugural season in the Big 12.
However, a pair of embarrassing losses at Syracuse (49-23) and at home against Louisville (38-35) have left some wondering if the old gold and blue truly are prepared for the rigors it will face against the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Sophomore linebacker Jared Barber understands those doubts.
WVU's Jared Barber
"The Syracuse game, I didn't play much of that game, but from the sideline it looked like our mentality just wasn't there," explained the North Carolina native. "I played a little bit of the Louisville game and that was a game we should have won hands down."
The two setbacks nearly cost the Mountaineers-the preseason favorite to capture the Big East crown-a chance to represent the league in the Bowl Championship Series. An opportunity they received thanks to a last-second victory at South Florida and a Cincinnati win over the Cardinals.
"I do think we need to prove ourselves," continued the linebacker.
Even a 37-point win over the Tigers wasn't enough to ease the pain of those two losses.
"We (the defense) played okay in the Orange Bowl, but we could have done a lot of things better."
And, Barber and his defensive teammates will have to accomplish that feat if No. 11 WVU-picked as the No. 2 team in its new conference in preseason balloting-is to compete in a league that features some of the top offenses in the country.
"We talk about it a lot-between the guys," Barber said. "I think we understand what is in front of us. But, I'm not really worried about who we are playing, just in playing West Virginia football."
A style of football that witnessed the old gold and blue average 37.6 points per game, but surrender 26.8.
"It doesn't really matter who you are playing. What matters is how you play. I don't care if we are playing (National Champion) Alabama, it doesn't make a difference on how we play.
"I think it will be a big transition, but it's not like we are playing NFL teams. It will be bigger, but I don't think it will be what everybody is making it out to be."
Of course, when you are a freshman playing your first season at an NCAA D-I school, everything can be overwhelming at times.
"I was a freshman (in the Orange Bowl), so I was kind of in awe," added Barber, who finished 15th on the team with 23 tackles (13 solo). "I was still used to playing in high school stadiums."
A problem that won't exist in 2012.
"We've played in some big venues. The crowd at the Orange Bowl was loud and big. You couldn't have asked for a better atmosphere to play in. And, I think it will help us when we go to places like Texas where there will be 100,000 people in the stands yelling."
And, the lessons learned a year ago will only make the 2009 Central Piedmont Conference Defensive Player of the Year better as the 230-pounder enters his second season with the Mountaineers.
"I know what is in store. I know what to expect. Last year, I had no idea what to expect. It (the year's experience) is going to help me a lot."
Which should only make WVU's prevent unit better.