September 27, 2012
NCAA's Heisman Trophy within West Virginia Geno Smith's sights
By SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency
It's the $20-million question.
How will the West Virginia Mountaineers fare in the Big 12?
The aforementioned number is the price the Morgantown university paid to flee the Big East early for the wide-open spaces -- and offences -- of its new conference.
There's no question the No. 9-ranked Mountaineers are tailor-made for the Big 12 and its spread passing attacks.
Coming into the season, WVU quarterback Geno Smith was a middle-of-the-pack candidate to garner an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December.
Four weeks later, thanks to USC Trojans pivot Matt Barkley doing his best Peyton Manning impersonation -- imploding at big moments just like the most famous Manning brother made a habit of while at Tennessee -- Smith has ascended to the top of the mountain, so to speak.
The throne is his for the taking at this point, if the Mountaineers can keep piling up wins.
With three cupcakes in Marshall, James Madison and Maryland out of the way, the season starts now for West Virginia.
And Smith knows it.
"It's a new season, man," Smith told reporters earlier this week. "It's all about the conference."
If there's a team for Smith to make a Heisman Trophy statement against, it's this week's opponent, the No. 25-ranked Baylor Bears.
Currently, the stiff-arming bronze statue resides in Waco, Texas, thanks to the sensational season posted last year by Robert Griffin III.
There's an eerie similarity between the two athletic signal-callers.
Both are dual-threats, who give opposing defensive co-ordinators fits.
Both protect the ball well -- Smith has thrown only 15 interceptions in 1,065 career attempts -- and both are deadly accurate in the pocket and on the move.
Smith is completing passes at an 81.3% clip this season, while RG3 connected at a 72.4% rate during his Heisman Trophy run.
And both have big-time targets to seek out when times get tough. Last year, Kendall Wright parlayed his connection with Griffin into a first-round draft grade and subsequent 20th overall selection by the Tennessee Titans.
This year, it's WVU burner Tavon Austin and the sure-handed Stedman Bailey, who are benefiting from a QB making a run at the Heisman.
"We're old buddies," Bailey told the Charleston Register-Herald. "It was fun playing with Geno back home and also is fun playing with him here."
It'll be even more fun with a win over a ranked team.
On Twitter: @SUNMitchell