Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Man Advantage: High Flying Heisman

Some might think it’s premature to be talking about the Heisman Trophy. Personally, it is never too early to talk about the biggest individual prize in college football.

At the opening of the 2012 college football season, USC golden boy and quarterback Matt Barkley was seen as the clear front runner. After a week three run-in with the Stanford Cardinal and a number of other unimpressive games, that chatter has largely been silenced.

A new front-runner has emerged: (who interestingly enough was my preseason player to watch. Take my word for it.) West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. This time last year, I hadn’t bought the hype; he struck me as another unimpressive quarterback for WVU. Then I saw West Virginia’s Orange Bowl matchup with Clemson, a team I was impressed with last season. Six touchdowns and a 70-33 win later, and I believed in Geno Smith.

Smith has picked up where he left off in that bowl game, leading his team to a 4-0 record and outscoring opponents 212-130, an average of almost 3 touchdowns a game. No one will compare Marshall, JMU, Maryland, and Baylor to murderer’s row, but it’s hard to argue with his numbers: 1728 yards passing with a 83.4% completion rate, 20 touchdowns with zero interceptions. The nation is catching Geno-fever and the comparisons to Robert Griffin III are plentiful.

The question is, can he keep it up? Three of WVU’s next four games are against top-15 ranked opponents. If WVU is 7-0 come November, with Smith continuing his torrid offensive pace, he’ll have to be the undisputed Heisman frontrunner going into their Nov. 3rd contest against fellow Big 12 newcomer TCU.

Smiths’ standout season could not have come at a better time for West Virginia as they enter their post-Big East era in the Big 12. Is there any better way to enter a new conference than with a Heisman contender leading a high-flying offense? Time will tell if West Virginia can see a “Flutie factor” as Boston College did in the 80s, or even the less-discussed “Tebow” factor Florida saw in the years since my least favorite Jacksonville native arrived on campus. Outstanding players have a way of leaving a legacy on recruiting, admissions, and sponsorship dollars—going into unfamiliar territory, any little thing can help. The learning curve is lessened with head coach Dana Holgorsen, former Big 12 assistant at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. He has familiarity both with opposing programs as well as with local high school coaches, helping the Mountaineers gain an edge in recruiting battles.

Geno Smith and West Virginia have a lot riding on this season: BCS title hopes, Heisman trophy chatter, a shot to be the first quarterback taken in next year’s NFL draft, and larger yet, what the legacy of Mountaineer football can be in the Big 12.

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