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West Virginia's Geno Smith more than passes as Heisman favorite

The Mountaineers quarterback, who tossed for eight touchdowns against Baylor, has a chip on his shoulder and an upcoming Big 12 test vs. Texas.

October 03, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith drops back to pass during the Mountaineers' 70-63 win over Baylor on Saturday.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith drops back to pass during the Mountaineers'… (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images )

We had most of it right. This year's early Heisman Trophy favorite was correctly identified as the quarterback with "unfinished business."

He returned for his senior year to lead a high-octane offense, featuring the nation's best receiver tandem, on a national title quest.

We just had a messed-up GPS device.

He wasn't from Tinseltown. He was from Morgantown.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith didn't specifically mention the preseason fawning over USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Yet, on a conference call Tuesday, you could hear the indignation in his voice only a few days after he threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns against Baylor.

Barkley's hype was understandable given that his return was a surprise. He would also be leading a team that capped a 10-2 season with a 50-0 win over UCLA.

What other quarterback out there could match that kind of 2012 ramp-up?

Smith saw one every morning in the mirror.

He ended his own junior year by throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns in a 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Yet, all he heard in the off-season was crickets.

It wasn't just that. The chip Smith says he's carried on his shoulder since high school now includes being a three-year starter at West Virginia and not getting much ink for it.

As a sophomore and junior, Smith threw for 55 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.

"And people still don't think you're good enough," Smith said. "I think that's where it's coming from."

Safe to say "people" are starting to warm up to Smith. It's difficult to imagine a quarterback having a better September. Through four games, Smith has thrown for 1,728 yards. He has 20 touchdowns and no interceptions. He is completing 83% of his passes and last week blew the doors off America with his performance against Baylor.

Smith completed 45 of 51 passes, meaning he had two more touchdown throws than incomplete passes.

West Virginia plays at Texas on Saturday and it sounds as if Longhorns Coach Mack Brown is conceding Smith the first 30 points.

"This isn't going to be a shutdown game," Brown said. "This guy just scored 70 points. I mean, unbelievable. It's just amazing."

In a month, Smith has swapped places with USC's Barkley and become the prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite. Smith is the nation's leader in NCAA passing efficiency while Barkley languishes at No. 48. In fact, Barkley is only the fifth-highest-rated passer in the Pac-12 Conference.

Smith isn't buying any of this yet. He knows that no matter what "people" are feeding into his ear, this isn't over by a longshot. He knows that scoring 70 points against what is now the NCAA's worst-ranked defense cannot sustain him.

"I'm not going to get caught up in the hype," he said. "If I go out and do poorly in the next game, I'm pretty sure the story line is going to be 'Geno fails.'"

Smith certainly has a firm grasp on the nation's insatiable appetite for hour-to-hour winners and losers.

It is Smith, not Barkley, making headlines with his two fantastic receivers.

Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are Nos. 1 and 2 nationally in receptions per game. Bailey and Austin trail only Baylor's Terrance Williams in total receiving yards.

Bailey averages 159 yards per game to Austin's 140. They have combined for 17 touchdowns.

Smith said he knows his pass catchers are angry about not being mentioned among the nation's top units. Truth is, Phil Steele's magazine listed West Virginia No. 4 behind USC, Clemson and Florida State. West Virginia's receiving unit was third in Athlon, behind USC and Clemson.

Maybe those magazines don't deliver to Morgantown.

Smith believes the national media "favors certain teams over others."

He calls Bailey "the best route runner in the country," and that Austin is so quick "he can make you miss in a phone booth."

Though Smith could not be any more of a Heisman front-runner than he is right now, we pundits have some "unfinished business" of our own.

We want to see West Virginia's offense against a quality defense not named Maryland.

Smith's first true test should come at Texas. The Longhorns are only No. 63 in defense but were supposed to be the Big 12's best unit after finishing 11th nationally last year.

West Virginia's offense also has Big 12 tests against Texas Tech, which has the nation's top-rated defense, and Texas Christian, Oklahoma and Iowa State, with defenses rated Nos. 7, 12 and 18.

A lot of people aren't sure what to make of all these goofball numbers.

Last weekend was the second-highest scoring weekend since 1937, according to Elias Sports Bureau, with an average of 60.9 combined points scored for the 52 Football Bowl Subdivision games.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said defenses — other than his own — being run ragged by no-huddle offenses might become a safety concern.

"Is this what we want football to be?" Saban asked.

The collective answer appears to be "yes" for the time being, at least until Alabama plays West Virginia or there's something more entertaining on television.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III won last year's Heisman despite games in which his team won but allowed 48 (TCU), 56 (Washington) and 42 (Texas Tech) points.

Griffin finished with 4,293 passing yards and 37 touchdowns.

Smith, at his rate, might surpass those numbers by halftime at Texas.

The last time West Virginia visited Austin was Oct. 6, 1956. West Virginia won, 7-6.

"They completed four of nine passes for 46 yards," Mack Brown mused.

Today, somewhere in the "Fabulous 50s" had better be your point total — at halftime.

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