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Monday, March 12, 2012
No. 1 in the Big East in 2011: Geno Smith

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

You waited all weekend for me to confirm what you already figured out: West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith takes the No. 1 spot in my countdown of the top 25 players in the Big East for 2011.

He may not have won Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors, but I thought Smith was the best and most valuable player in the league this year. Why?

Making the case: There is no way West Virginia would have had another record-breaking offensive year and been one of the most explosive groups in the country without Smith. Take Smith away, and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are not nearly as effective. There is no denying that trio of players benefited from playing in the high-powered offense Dana Holgorsen brought with him from Oklahoma State. But one glance at what happened at Pitt should show everybody that there is no such thing as just being able to insert any warm body into a spread offense and have it work like magic.

Geno Smith
The Mountaineers had a record-breaking season on offense behind Geno Smith's 4,385 passing yards.
Were there problems? Sure, there were problems. Smith made bad decisions at times. The offense failed to put together a complete game on more than one occasion, driving the ball ridiculously well at some points, then stalling at others. We finally saw the full capability of the offense on display in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, a sign of things to come for 2012. But for 2011 at least, Smith learned the offense and did a great job in his first year -- setting the school and Big East record with 4,385 yards, while throwing for 31 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Smith ranked No. 8 in the nation in passing, and was the most highly visible player in the Big East.

With Smith leading the way, West Virginia set 19 different school records. Smith owns seven of them. And if anybody needs reminding, his backup was a true freshman. So if Smith had gotten hurt, this team would have been in a heap of trouble. I don't think you can say the same of Austin. As good as Austin is, I think West Virginia would have been able to make do without him. That's why I have Smith ahead of his teammate.

Why Smith over Isaiah Pead? As I have written before, I understand the argument for making Pead the No. 1 player in the Big East. He had his best season, and was extremely valuable to the Bearcats, especially after Zach Collaros got hurt. But in a must-win game against Rutgers the week after losing Collaros, Pead had his worst game of the season, with 28 yards on 14 carries. A lot of that was a function of the way the Scarlet Knights focused on shutting him down and making Munchie Legaux beat them. But I think all Bearcats fans can probably agree they expected a little more out of Pead in that game. It was as if the entire offense failed to show up. To me, MVPs find a way to make a play -- even with nine men in the box.

Not to take away anything from the season Pead had. I obviously think highly enough of him to rank him No. 2 in the Big East. But overall, I thought Smith was better and more valuable, so he gets my No. 1 ranking.

Preseason ranking: No. 1

The countdown:

No. 2 Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati

No. 3 Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

No. 4 Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

No. 5 Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers

No. 6 Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati

No. 7 Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia

No. 8 Ray Graham, RB, Pitt

No. 9 Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati

No. 10 JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati

No. 11 Kendall Reyes, DT, UConn

No. 12 Najee Goode, LB, West Virginia

No. 13 Bruce Irvin, DE West Virginia

No. 14 Julian Miller, DE, West Virginia

No. 15 Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse

No. 16 Trevardo Williams, DE, UConn

No. 17 Aaron Donald, DE, Pitt

No. 18 Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers

No. 19 Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville

No. 20 Dexter Heyman, LB, Louisville

No. 21 Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn

No. 22 Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse

No. 23 Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers

No. 24 Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia

No. 25 Ryne Giddins, DE, USF