Is Geno Smith the Big 12's best QB?

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Dana Holgorsen's seen what quarterbacks in his offense can do.

There was Graham Harrell at Texas Tech. There was Case Keenum at Houston. In 2010, there was Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State.

Now, there's Geno Smith.

All had at least one thing in common: prodigious production.

Smith racked up 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season in Holgorsen's offense. Only three quarterbacks in college football last season had more, and two -- Weeden and Keenum -- played in the systems Holgorsen left behind.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
Andrew Weber/US PresswireGeno Smith could be even more productive in his second year in Dana Holgorsen's offense.
Another thing Holgorsen's passers have in common? Year 2 has been even better.

"Everything is easier," Holgorsen said.

More yards, more points and most importantly, more wins. Smith should be right at home in the quarterback-heavy Big 12.

Harrell and Keenum are sons of coaches, cerebral players with an exceptional understanding of the game. Weeden has his cannon arm that Holgorsen said is "something I'd never seen before."

"They’re so different in lots of different ways, but the one thing that exists in all of them is leading your team to wins," Holgorsen said.

That's to be expected in Year 2 in Holgorsen's system, but this is Year 1 for West Virginia in the Big 12, where the expectation is nothing less than sky-high.

"Heisman," said receiver Tavon Austin, who caught 101 passes for 1,186 yards and eight scores in 2011.

Smith is 19-7 as West Virginia's starter and figures to add plenty of wins for the Mountaineers, who should start 2012 near the top 10.

"He expects to be successful, going back to his high school career," Holgorsen said. "Three years as a starting quarterback, very few losses, state championship. He can will his team to win, and has proven to do that the two years that he’s been a starter."

Smith may will his team to wins this year, but he'll get plenty of help. Along with Austin, who may be the Big 12's best playmaker with the ball in his hands, Smith has longtime friend Stedman Bailey, a second 1,000-yard receiver who led the team in receiving and touchdowns last season. The two have played together since sixth grade in Miami.

As high school sophomores, Smith explained to Bailey how to read the field like a quarterback. Almost seven years later, in games, on game tape or after practice, Bailey can offer his take from a receiver who knows what the field looks like for a quarterback.

"It’s amazing to have the kind of chemistry with these guys that I do. I’ve been with them for four years now," Smith said. "Me and Stedman have been playing together forever, so it’s just a great opportunity to be in, especially in this offense, because we have a lot of freedom and we have a chance to go out there and play the game we love."

As for all that Heisman talk? Smith just wants wins.

"That’s always my goal going into the season. I could care less about anything else every year," he said. "If anything, I’m rooting for [Austin] to win the Heisman more than myself or anyone else. I’m happy about it, but at the same time, I’m focused on winning games."

Fact is, it’s a possibility. Smith may even be the Big 12's best shot to bring home a second consecutive Heisman after Baylor's dual-threat quarterback, Robert Griffin III, did it in 2011.

"The second year, as coach Holgorsen says, is always the best one because I’m not out there figuring out what he wants," Smith said. "Also, he’s giving me the freedom to be myself in this offense, but at the same time, run the offense the way he wants us to, and that makes it even better, because I feel like I’m a gifted athlete, but I feel like this offense is one of the best in the country."

Holgorsen's trail of potent offense proves that. And with his Big 12 knowledge, he knows he has a quarterback who can help the Mountaineers navigate the transition from the Big East to the Big 12.

"He’s as good as any of ‘em, and has the potential to be as good as any of ‘em," Holgorsen said of Smith's place among the Big 12's elite quarterbacks in 2012. "Ultimately, it’s head-to-head battles, and that’s what I think makes Brandon Weeden tremendous. His head-to-head against every QB you can name was pretty stellar."

Smith will be the reason West Virginia looks like a perfect fit for the Big 12 on the field.

"I’ve paid attention to what guys like Brandon Weeden and Graham Harrell and Case Keenum have done, and I want to live up to what those guys have done," Smith said. "I have big shoes to fill."

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