Today, we'll kick off a new series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success. We'll start from the bottom of the alphabet for this one. First up, those 'Eers out East.
Most indispensable player: QB Geno Smith
2011 stats: Completed 346-of-526 passes (65.8 percent) for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Why West Virginia can't afford to lose him: Geno's simply the man who makes it all go for West Virginia. You'll see a lot of quarterbacks on this list from the Big 12, and Smith has arguably the league's top receiving corps, but it's his decision-making and arm that hold the offense together. Like many others, he blew up in his first year in Dana Holgorsen's offense, throwing for 1,600 more yards than his sophomore season in 2010. Despite throwing the ball nearly 150 more times, Smith still threw just seven interceptions in 2011, the exact same he threw in 2010. He's efficient, smart and does exactly what Holgorsen's offense is designed to do: get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. In Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey alone, Smith has plenty. That's not even considering the solid depth WVU has in the rest of its receiving corps.
Paul Millard would be Smith's backup, but there's no question, Smith has to stay healthy. Without him, WVU would go from a Big 12 title contender to what's likely a middling eight-win team. Heisman voters know that, too. If Smith puts up more big numbers in 2012 and WVU wins 11 or so games, Smith's going to be a very, very serious candidate for the most hallowed individual award in sports.