West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith will be a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy in 2012. As the leader of Dana Holgorsen's pass-happy offense Smith will thrive, specially considering the Mountaineers' scheduled move to the "no-defense-allowed" Big 12 Conference.
The Big 12's tradition of wide open offenses and bad defenses has been prevalent for years, and last season was no different. Texas was the best D in the conference, yet they gave up more than 300 yards per game. Missouri, which is headed to the SEC, and Oklahoma were next as both these squads allowed at least 380 yard per contest.
Smith piled up nearly 4,400 yards through the air and 31 touchdowns against stiff Big East defenses last year, three of the top 20 scoring defenses came out of that conference. Compared to the Big 12's top scoring defense, TCU at 30th, which played against Mountain West offenses.
And that lack of defense in the Big 12, more than anything else, is a key reason Smith has a realistic shot at winning the coveted Heisman. Of course, to impress the voters, Smith must show up and perform in the marquee match-ups on West Virginia's schedule. West Virginia will face five projected pre-season top 25 teams: No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 12 Kansas State, No. 15 TCU, Oklahoma State at No. 19, and Texas at No. 22. Ultimately, whether or not Smith is in contention for the Heisman will come down to how he performs in these five games.
Last season, Smith had no problem showing up in big games. In a week 4 matchup of West Virginia and then No. 2 LSU, Smith put on a record-breaking performance, completing 38 passes for 463 yards, both Mountaineer records.
And we all remember the picture-perfect dominance exhibited by Smith and the West Virginia offense in the 2012 Orange Bowl against Clemson, when Smith again threw for more than 400 yards and a school-record 6 touchdowns. Smith put nightmares in the minds of Dabo Swinney and the entire Clemson fan-base with that shellacking.
With those games in mind, one can comfortably assume that Smith will have similar success against the sub-par defenses that litter the Big 12.
Another reason qualifying the Senior quarterback for Heisman contention will be the array of weapons at his disposal. The return of receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will be huge for Smith's success in 2012.
Austin, who could end up being a Heisman candidate himself, though that's another article, led the team with 101 receptions last year and will continue to do a little bit of everything for the Mountaineers.
Bailey, a high-school teammate of Smith at Miramar High School in Florida, led West Virginia with over 1200 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions. The two will combine to form one of the top receiving duos in the country and will be vital to Smith's 2012 Heisman campaign.
While Smith is widely considered as a possible Heisman candidate, very few are mentioning him in the same breath as early favorites Denard Robinson, Montee Ball, and Matt Barkley.
Realistically, Smith has just as good a chance to win the Heisman as those three. He will be facing easier defenses and plays in the type of offense that allows him to flourish and show off his skill set.
He's one of the most explosive players in college football, and has the dual-threat skills comparable to the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III. While Holgorsen's offense has not incorporated a consistent rushing attack from the quarterback position in the past, Smith only rushed with the ball 56 times last season, I look for coach Holgorsen to give Smith more leniency with the offense, which could result in even better numbers for the Senior quarterback.
While it will be tough for Smith to overtake early Heisman favorites like Barkley and Robinson due to the lack of Big 12 defense, Smith's impressive big-game track record, and his stellar supporting cast, has him positioned to be a legitimate candidate for the 2012 Heisman Trophy.